So…more Jazz music. This particular album, Fourplay’s “Elixir”, is one that I have been listening to since I was young. It’s an album I love…even as I recognize that it kind of fits the now-dreaded category of “Smooth Jazz”. You know, the kind of music that had taken all of the edge and improvization out of Jazz music and made it into the kind of shit that may as well be the background music of a bad R&B song? Yeah…that music was my favorite, once upon a time. To make things more explicit, I’ve grown out of Smooth Jazz…but Fourplay, throughout it’s band member changes and smooth song covers (bet you’re sick of that word “smooth”, huh?) lives on inside of me.
Though, to give some perspective, the album “Elixir” is a snapshot of the jazz group Fourplay back when Lee Ritenour still played the guitars. For a taste of Lee Ritenour’s guitar in the context of Fourplay, look no further than the albums titular song. Pure spa music at the very beginning, until Lee strums the guitar. The enlongated twang breaking the air and making things just a bit more loose (but not too loose, lest they offend the lounge jazz goddesses). The improv of Ritenour is something to behold in this song and others.
Oh, am I forgetting the other members? Far from it. Nathan East is a bass player who has a lot of years and songs under his belt. The dude has put in the work with the likes of Michael Jackson and Daft Punk, and while he is quite mellow playing for Fourplay, he still has a spine. For example, witness the grove of his bass in the next track, “Dream Come True”. The song seems light, but it thrives because of the depth of his bass. The highs would be nothing with East’s lows.
Then there’s Bob James doing the keyboards throughout, and is also known as…*sigh*…the founder of smooth jazz. Oh, yeah, and apparently his music has been sampled to hell and back. Take a quick glance inside the website WhoSampled and search for “Bob James”. No, seriously. It’s outrageous.
Last, there’s Harvey Mason. Some might recognize him from Chick Corea (a smooth jazz outfit that, funny enough, I didn’t really hear much of until I started going to college). Others might recognize them from their work with Herbie Hancock. His drums are, to me, what bring the songs together. Bob James strumming the bass, Lee Ritenour piercing the air with his grove, Bob James being all…keyboard-y, and then there’s Mason, whose cylinders and drum beats help to keep the entire thing rooted to the ground, while allowing the songs to reach the heights they often reach in this album.
Being biased, I can’t say that I find any faults with this album. It’s a musical bedrock for me. It’s an album I listened to and felt at home with, especially when it was a rainy/cloudy day. The light forward motion of “Elixir” helped me to create a sense of inner peace, while the Phil Collins guest-starring (yes, that Phil Collins) track, “Why Can’t It Wait ‘Til Morning?” was something I always understood as being melancholy and sweet, desperate yet loving. I mean, just read the lyrics of the song. Tell me there isn’t something disconcerting with it. I’ve listened to that song dozens of times, taken in by its melancholy. The lyrics were completely unlike my circumstances, yet the sense of desperation, the desire to return to a peaceful mean that probably never existed to begin with…I related to it.
Now I have the entire album inside of my Rockbox player (just a modded Sansa), and I listen to the songs. I’m immediately taken back to the sensations I felt a long time ago, when I felt so vulnerable yet hopeful, as opposed to today when I’m (kinda) more stable yet more paranoid. A reminder of the hell I witnessed and lived through, full of possibilities while not discounting the isolation and sadness I often felt. Easier to cry and dream, then…but all things have to go away eventually. Right now, I’m on a Death Grips/Flying Lotus/Onra/The Phantom’s Revenge kick, constantly trying to slurp up new stuff because I recognize the years melting away faster than I can count as I age…but at least Fourplay’s music was there for my beginning journey, making just about every minute of my past fell just a little more bearable.
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