Fourplay, Let’s Touch the Sky [Heads Up]

Fourplay may not have invented smooth jazz, but it remains the class of the field, always pushing the idiom forward in both its jazz and pop directions.

Fourplay may not have invented smooth jazz, but it remains the class of the field, always pushing the idiom forward in both its jazz and pop directions. The quartet’s fine 11th outing is sparked by new guitarist Chuck Loeb, who melds seamlessly with the group’s signature sonic pallette and superior writing and arranging. As usual, Nathan East is in the thick of things, initiating the Ruben Studdard cover of “Love TKO,” providing bubbling bass beneath “3rd Degree” and “Pineapple Getaway,” singing his chart-ready, reflective ballad, “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” and contributing the Metheny-tinged “A Night in Rio.” As a capper, he delivers a probing solo and support work on “Golden Faders” and a savory upright solo on “Gentle Giant (For Hank).”


Brandon Fields

Brandon Fields One People [Blue Star] The late Dave Carpenter’s status as one of L.A.’s premier session and jazz upright bassists obscured his utter love of, and boundary-pushing skills on, the 6-string bass guitar. Saxophonist Fields’s trio set with drummer Gary Novak at last lays this bare, as Carp turns in a tour de force performance covering the chordal and bass roles. On six swinging tracks (including Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge”), Dave instinctively balances crisp chord comps with taut walking lines, while his solos shine with the melodic depth and laid-back phrasing of a horn master. Elsewhere, “Vision Quest,” “Longing,” and a pedal-rich reharm of “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” are marvels of 6-string chordvoicing ingenuity.

Yellowjackets: New Morning: The Paris Concert (DVD) [Heads Up, 2009]

The Jackets’ time-tested progressive jazz gets a thorough workout in this March 2008 show at the renowned Paris venue New Morning, and the resulting document captures the intimate feeling of a small club show, but with the benefit of top-notch audio and video production quality. It’s cliché to say, “It feels like you’re really there,” but in this case it’s thankfully apropos. The special treats for Jimmy Haslip fans include syncopated rhythms on “Capetown” and “Cross Current” executed with such confidence and skill that they land with the impact of miniature kick drums, his fiendish swing walking on “Bop Boy,” his deeply soulful solo in “Even Song,” and a bonus feature consisting of a seven-minute interview/history lesson about the band with Haslip himself. For anyone who’s heard about Jimmy Haslip’s playing with the Yellowjackets a million times and never actually seen it live, it’s really worth checking out what makes him—and them— so special.

Brian Bromberg: It Is What It Is [Mack Avenue-Artistry Music]

Never one to shun the smooth jazz specter, it seems only fitting that Brian Bromberg jumpstarts the sagging idiom with his vibrant latest effort. Punctuated by a 5- piece horn section and all-star guest list throughout, the 13-track disc gets down to business with the hard-swinging big band title track opener. From there come feel-good covers of “Love Shack” and “Sanford and Son Theme,” fretless poise on “Heaven,” and Marcus-nodding thumb on “Elephants on Skates” and “Mr. Miller.” For full sonic contrast, dig the resonant solo tenor bass ballad “Mirror” and the disc-closing “Slap Happy,” with Brian in shredder mode on overdriven piccolo bass.

Men in the Mirror: The Bassists of Michael Jackson How Alex Al And His Predecessors Pumped Up The King Of Pop

THERE’S A REVEALING EXCHANGE ABOUT FIVE MINUTES into This Is It, the documentary about the late Michael Jackson’s planned world tour, in which the Gloved One is encouraging his keyboardist to play the answer riff to the penetrating bass line of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” funkier. “It’s not there yet,” he says gently, before singing the entire two-measure groove flawlessly in the pocket, while playing air bass. Real bass seems to have always been at the forefront of Jackson’s music, whether it came from studio savants in Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New York, or his landmark use of synth bass that remains in vogue to this day. Alex Al, Jackson’s bassist since 2001 and a member of the seven-piece band featured in the film, concurs. “Bass was the most important instrument to him. He’d make references to Paul McCartney’s melodic playing with the Beatles, James Jamerson being upfront and center with Motown, or Stevie Wonder’s left hand.”