This all-star group -- comprised of keyboardist Bob James, guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Nathan East, and drummer Harvey Mason -- was formed in 1991 after the quartet came together on part of James' Grand Piano Canyon album. They have since recorded a number of CDs for Warner Bros. that have all been big sellers, not surprising considering the popularity of James and Ritenour. Larry Carlton took over the guitarist's spot in the late '90s, first appearing in Fourplay on the band's successful 1998 album, 4. The seasonal Snowbound was released in 1999. It featured traditional and modern holiday songs, all played in the quartet's increasingly slick style. The band ended its tenure with Warner Bros. with 2000's soft babymaker album Yes, Please.
Fourplay attempted to break new ground with with 2002's Heartfelt, which was their debut album for RCA's Bluebird imprint. The album consisted of live studio jamming that was heavily edited and assembled using Pro Tools. In 2004 they issued Journey, more a return to their earlier, smoother form than a building-block progression from Heartfelt. In 2006, Fourplay released X, a final album for RCA/Bluebird. The set featured a guest vocal from Michael McDonald on a reading of Steve Winwood's "My Love's Leavin'."
The group signed with Heads Up International for 2008's Energy, which was notable for a pair of excellent Carlton compositions and a vocal appearance by Esperanza Spalding on "Prelude for Lovers." Fourplay -- now featuring new guitarist Chuck Loeb replacing Carlton -- assembled again for the label on 2010's Let's Touch the Sky, which included guest appearances by Ruben Studdard and Anita Baker. In 2012, Fourplay released Esprit de Four, with guest appearances by Kenny Mason & the Voices of Praise Choir and Japanese singer Seiko Matsuda. ~ Scott Yanow & Thom Jurek