Is it possible to combine the likes of four first-call studio musicians who are enjoying their own stellar careers into one cohesive group without individual egos getting in the way? It’s been done before-but very few have lasted as long and enjoyed the success and acclaim as Fourplay.
The group’s journey commenced when bassist Nathan East, keyboardist Bob James, drummer Harvey Mason and guitarist Lee Ritenour hooked up in 1991. Even though the guitar chair was been a revolving door, the group hasn’t missed a beat! Ritenour left in 1997 replaced by Larry Carlton who then left in 2010. Chuck Loeb stepped in and is holding down the fort and then some! The Grammy-nominated super group skillfully blends elements of fusion, r&b and pop into an appealing musical concoction with jazz being the main ingredient.
While I have yet to experience Fourplay live in concert, I have seen most of the current and former members in various concert settings with their own bands. The most memorable encounter for me was meeting the great Nathan East at a studio session back in the mid to late 1980’s. My younger brother was very good friends with the late great arranger Gene Page, who was kind enough to invite me to the session. Since I was a bass player, Gene thought that I would enjoy seeing a true professional at work. Was he ever on the money!
I arrived at Baby-O Studio about ten minutes before Nathan did. The producer for the session gave instructions to the engineer that he did not want East to hear the bass line track that he would replace. Soon thereafter, the man of the hour walked in and his smile and calming demeanor spread throughout the entire room. After shaking everyone’s hand, including mine, he then removed his 5-string bass from its case, tuned it and plugged in to the mixing board. Gene handed him a chart for the song and made some comments to Nathan who then pulled out a pencil and scribble some notes on the chart. After briefly examining the chart, he indicated he was ready to go. The engineer fired up the tune that included vocals and the rhythm section tracks except for the bass. While smiling the entire time, Mr. East proceeded to lay down an absolutely amazing bass line that grooved like crazy! I was able to hear the original bass part, which sounded good to my ears. What Nathan played took the song to another level. It became very evident to me why Nathan East was, and still is, a first-call session and touring bassist!
What sets Nathan apart from the vast majority of bassists is his ability to contribute incredible bass lines to songs of multiple genres with uncanny ease! When you are hired by Barry White, Quincy Jones, Lionel Richie, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Anita Baker, Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Seal, Hubert Laws, Dolly Parton, Earl Klugh, Bobby Womack, Cher, Melissa Manchester, Kenny Loggins, Jeff Lorber, Stevie Wonder, The Manhattan Transfer, Ricky Lee Jones, George Benson, Donna Summer, Daft Punk, ad infinitum (you won’t believe how long and varied his discography is!), there isn’t a musical situation that you can’t handle.
I will now yield the podium to Fourplay and the phenomenal bass wizardry of Nathan East!
(Very soothing vocals by Mr. East)
(A serious chops buster! Whew!!!)
Fourplay is still going strong and continues to amaze audiences around the world.
Since I haven’t attended one of their concerts, my bucket list just got a little longer!
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