YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Fourplay's Secret: They're All for One, One for All : Jazz: Guitarist Lee Ritenour attributes the success of the group, which plays the Coach House tonight, to its 'continuous dialogue.'


Guitarist Lee Ritenour is enjoying the best of both worlds. His solo project, the Wes Montgomery tribute album "Wes Bound" (GRP), as well as his group recording, Fourplay's "Between the Sheets" (Warner Bros.), have been firmly entrenched on Billboard's jazz albums charts since their releases last year.

Long popular as a contemporary guitarist, Ritenour, who appears with Fourplay tonight at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, has never been more visible.

His career "has evolved a lot farther than I thought it would when I was first starting out," Ritenour said in a phone conversation from his home in Malibu. "I'm surprised that I've made 20 albums and come this far. It's interesting that in my early days I was aspiring to be a studio musician, but aspiring to an artist as well--I always had dreams of playing live."

Much of Ritenour's recent success has come via Fourplay, the big-name amalgamation of crossover artists that includes Ritenour, keyboardist Bob James, bassist Nathan East and drummer Harvey Mason. Both of the band's recordings, including "Between the Sheets," have spent record lengths atop the contemporary jazz charts. Critical response to the band has been another matter.

"Fourplay gets trashed a lot," Ritenour explained, "and we're used to that one. Unfortunately, reviewers kind of lose sight of certain aspects of Fourplay, they miss a lot of the elements that come together in Fourplay.

"One is the extreme rhythmical tightness of the band. Another is the interplay, the way we fit together, and the interplay that happens both rhythmically and melodically in the unit.

"A lot of times, four superstar jazz guys get together and they all go off in their own directions. I could name numerous units as examples of that kind of thing. But when you see Fourplay work together, you see this continuous dialogue going on, a sponsorship and appreciation of each other that results in this extreme interplay. No individual ego at all. There are four distinct stylists, but those four styles work so well together. That's the amazing thing about our chemistry."

Fourplay came about when keyboardist James gathered Ritenour, East and Mason to record his 1990 album "Grand Piano Canyon."

"It felt really nice, and we began to wonder if we could get together and do a group project," he said. "Along the way it worked out and the first record (1991's "Fourplay") went through the roof. So then we had to make room for Fourplay in our individual careers.

"It usually happens the other way around," he added. "People join groups when they are young, and then they want to go off and have solo careers. But that wasn't the case with Fourplay. We were all very firmly established."

Ritenour, 41, was born in Hollywood and first came before the public eye recording with Sergio Mendes, Gato Barbieri, Herbie Hancock and Carly Simon, among others. He's released a string of successful solo albums, beginning in 1976 with "Guitar Player" and continuing through "Captain Fingers," "Rit" and the acoustic "Rio."


Ritenour's solo career took a turn from the commercial this year with the release of "Wes Bound."

"I certainly didn't try to copy Wes," he said of the project. "There's still Lee Ritenour written all over it."

There are, nevertheless, parallels between Montgomery's career and his own.

"Wes had these really deep roots and was a strong, straight-ahead player, but he also opened up the music to other possibilities. He was tremendously criticized for his pop-crossover work, and in some cases, rightfully so.

"But he was really the first, back in 1966 and '68 to create the kind of pop-jazz crossover that later really started to happen. Wes could get into rock 'n' roll rhythms or straight eighths or the Brazilian styles with a fluidness that hardly anyone else could do at that time. The contemporary flavors that he created still hold up today."

This kind of thinking, Ritenour said, influences his own approach.

"I don't know that I'll be doing another tribute album. But I feel a strong attraction to Wes' music, and I want to continue to explore the straight-ahead style, combining it with the kind of contemporary style that I've done in the past.

"Lately, it seems like there are two camps on this. . . . A lot of young players (are) doing strictly straight-ahead, and then there's the guys who blazed the early fusion trails. And I think those styles are going to merge again, as they did in the early '70s."

That direction may also influence Fourplay's future.

"I like digging into the past and exploring the traditional guitar styles. And I wouldn't be surprised if Fourplay starts to dive into that area a little bit as well. But for now, we'll do what we do best, which is come up with a lot of great grooves along with a lot of great melodies."

* Fourplay performs tonight at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, 8 p.m., $25. (714) 496-8927. Also Wednesday at the the Strand, 1700 S. Pacific Coast Highway, 7 and 10 p.m., $23.50. (310) 316-1700.

Los Angeles Times Articles