JazzMonthly: What have been some of the highlights recording and playing live with Fourplay? What do you think you bring that is unique?
CL: One of greatest things about being a composer is thinking about who will play it. When I bring a tune to Bob, Nathan and Harvey, it’s not only awe inspiring, it keeps me on my toes as a writer. The greatest thing is to take material into the studio and see what they will do with it. The opening track on the album is “December Dream,” which we built into a long suite. Each guy kind of attacked my original tune and brought unique elements to it. In the middle Bob and I are doing a fugue section, a contrapuntal part which Bob came up with spontaneously in the session. Harvey delved into his classical percussion background and came up with a syncopated orchestral part, so that it almost sounds like a Stravinsky piece with doubled and tripled snare drum. Nathan sang a lot but also included a killer walking bassline. I could never imagine these elements until they came up with them. As for what I bring that is unique, I think maybe more of an emphasis on challenging, more “notey” jazz fusion and compositions that lean more jazz than pop. My background includes working with Stan Getz and Michael Brecker and others who have challenged me on the traditional and fusion jazz front. In turn, the Fourplay guys like the challenges I bring into the mix with my compositions.
JazzMonthly (to Harvey Mason): As a founding member of Fourplay, what’s your take on the title Esprit De Corps?
Harvey Mason: As you can tell from the title and artwork, we’re bonded together and there’s the “all for one, one for all” unity of 21 years together. They’re all great guys and we’re probably tighter now than ever. Chuck definitely fits right into our flow. Each time we record is a unique experience. We “audition” songs for each other and that’s the nervous time. But Chuck as our newest member gets to present his material first and he was so excited to do it. Like he said, “December Dream” took us back to the drawing board and set a high bar which took our creative sensibilities to a whole different place. We were all scrambling back into the musical archives in our memory to come up with ideas that could do justice to what he brought in. The process of building songs is a discovery and love affair at the same time, and it’s an amazing process that is always fresh and exciting. Because all of us have been both leaders and played supporting roles for other artists, we know when to lead and when to be step back. All those tools work together here in an unselfish and giving environment. That’s always been our aesthetic, giving everything we have to each other.
JazzMonthly: Once Larry left, how did you guys decide Chuck was the guy, and what do you think Chuck has brought to the group creatively?
HM: Chuck was the only choice. Bob had worked with him in the past and Nathan and I had heard his records and seen him play. Every time I would hear a great guitar tune on the radio, it turned out to be Chuck. I love the way he plays, and he’s very well rounded as a composer, producer and creator of a great sound. He’s also an equally wonderful human being and the perfect fit for a band like ours that is not content to rest on its laurels and wants to continue to explore. His flexibility is amazing and he’s brought an exciting energy to our new tunes and to many of our older songs when we play live. His fresh approach has driven us all to perk up, and it has pushed us to meld together again around his playing. That’s what we do best.
JazzMonthly: How do you think changing guitarists three times has influenced the band’s sound over the years?
HM: I believe it’s had a great impact. With Lee, we played a little sweeter. With Larry, it was bluesy, raw and not as slick and refined, but in a daring way. With Chuck, we get a sound that’s refined and sophisticated and very diverse. He covers every area so well and brings more of that jazz fusion influence from his days with Getz and Steps Ahead. Now that he’s opened us up to that arena, we’re flying all over the place!