Loeb’s Touching the Sky as Part of Fourplay

by on Jun.09, 2011, under Press &Reviews

The Californian
Thursday, June 9, 2011

Like many jazz fans, Chuck Loeb has been a fan of Fourplay for a long time; but unlike most, he is now a part of the band.

“I was definitely eager to join the band, having been a fan of the band from the beginning,” said Loeb. “It’s a really good moment for me as the focus on my own career was changing, and this left the door open to pursue two different areas, to keep me challenged.

The superstar group, consisting of Bob James, Harvey Mason and Nathan East, will perform Sunday at Thornton Winery as part of the 2011 Champagne Jazz Concert Series.

When Larry Carlton, who had earlier replaced longtime guitarist Lee Ritenour, decided to leave the band, Fourplay quickly turned to Loeb.

“I’ve worked with Bob for a long time and (we’ve) played on each other’s records, and I’ve also produced his records,” he said. “When Larry decided to leave the band, they got together and discussed it, and they voted and asked me to join.”

Of course, the band has a little fun with it.

“They joke around and said I was their first choice, but other times they will say everyone else was busy,” he said. “It’s all in fun.”

Fourplay is, without a doubt, made up of extremely talented and experienced musicians, and Loeb certainly fits that category, having started his guitar playing, like most, at a young age.

“I grew up in the New York area in the ’60s, a really fertile time musically, especially for guitar,” he said. “Hendrix, Page, Beck, not to mention Beatles, were all out there.”

But it was folk music and his sister that actually got him started playing guitar.

“My sister was into folk music and wanted to play like Judy Collins and Joan Baez,” he said. “My parents bought her a guitar, and she lost interest. I was five years younger than her and I was like, ‘I’ll play it!’ I started going crazy learning songs from records.”

He also took advantage of the city’s music scene.

“In New York, there were a lot of musicians, and I would ask them how to do what they were doing, driving them crazy,” he laughed. “I basically taught myself for years. Funny enough, I started composing the same time I started playing. I went to camp and wrote a tune and played it for my folks.”

Even though his parents weren’t professional musicians, they heard something important in that song.

“I was about 12, and they looked at each other and me and said, ‘That’s pretty good,'” he said. “Feedback saying that something I did was good was instantly addictive. I was doing something I loved, and it worked. At that point I decided I wanted to be a guitar player.”

Along the way, he worked with good teachers, especially Jim Hall, then attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music.

“I didn’t finish school because I got a professional gig,” he said. “Once you start working, you work. So far —- knock on wood —- it’s still working.”

Loeb feels equally at home on the road or in the studio.

“To me they are equally rewarding, but I am definitely a studio rat,” he said. “I love recording and all the tricks. Playing live is obviously a thrilling experience because you get that magic between you and the audience. That’s really something. It would be hard to choose.”

Last year, Loeb experienced touring firsthand with Fourplay, but the band’s latest release, “Let’s Touch the Sky,” was his first time in the studio with the band.

“It was unique,” he said. “They have a democratic process, and it is very collaborative. Doing your own CDs you make all the decisions; it’s very autocratic. In this case, it’s absolutely a democratic band. All the decisions were made as a group. Everyone makes an effort to go with majority rule. I think that’s why it’s a magical sound.”

The fact that Loeb is outgoing and not shy about speaking up worked well.

“I’m sort of naturally proactive,” he said. “When I went into the studio, my natural instinct was to speak up and jump in with ideas. I wasn’t sure how they would react. They were unanimously enthusiastic. From note one and day one, they have encouraged me to give them input.”

The democratic nature may help with any differences of opinion that might naturally occur.

“Obviously, everyone has a healthy ego,” Loeb said. “In those moments of truth when a decision has to be made to make the music arrive, it’s amazing how it works out. There’s total agreement. We have looked back at decisions that were contentious and realized that we did the right thing about 99 percent of the time. Egos become a collective one. The pride is on the group, not the individual.”

Another facet of the band is the need to explore new territory.

“You really have to keep stretching the boundaries,” he said. “‘Touch the Sky’ is the thing where we really wanted to push the envelope with and do things we aren’t totally used to.”

The process also fit a pretty typical pattern for the band.

“Everyone brings in tunes —- two tunes per guy,” he said. “I wrote four or five songs. In talking about the idea of pushing the envelope, I had some songs that I thought were more commercial things. And actually, when the guys heard it, instead of choosing the obvious, they chose the most difficult and challenging. The proof was in the pudding, as I really think the album does have an edge.”

It may have seemed difficult to replace a long-time member of such a close-knit band, but Loeb’s bandmates eased the transition.

“There’s no question that we had a lot of fun in the studio,” he said. “The cool thing is that I’m a huge fan of Larry’s, so it was a little daunting, and I’m a fan of Lee’s as well. But basically they kept telling me to be myself.”

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, as Loeb indicated, and that proof seems to be the reaction of audiences to the music.

“It has been super-supportive,” he said. “I guess it’s meant to be. I’m just going to enjoy the ride because it’s a great place to be and sometimes I have to pinch myself. I couldn’t be in a better place.”

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