It’s not unusual for critics to characterize Four80East as a smooth jazz outfit. Many of the Toronto band’s fans feel the same way.
In truth, Four80East’s mission is to incorporate smooth jazz’s dimensions even as the group transcends them. This is nu jazz, the band’s website notes, “taking the best of contemporary jazz and pop styles and aligning them to produce a improvisational dance-infused sound … Four80East operates on a plane that expresses their own stylized ability under an umbrella of electrified and funky vibes.”
Northern California audiences have the opportunity to experience those vibes this month. Four80East performs March 19 at Yoshi’s in San Francisco. The group is on the road in support of its latest release, the concert album “Live.” Matt Marshak and Marcus Anderson round out the bill.
The band’s nucleus is comprised of Rob DeBoer (keyboards, bass, guitar) and Tony Grace (percussion). The duo has been working together for more than 20 years and released seven albums to date. Here’s what Grace told me in an interview a few years back about the band’s style and consistency.
Question: The root of the band lies in your relationship with Rob. How did you too begin collaborating?
Grace: Rob and I met during a recording session at Boomtang back in the summer of 1991 and have worked together ever since. I think the key to our success lies in our mutual respect of each other and that we have similar tastes, not only with music but our general aesthetics as well. We also have a good sense about how hard to push with your ideas during creative process. Keep your ego out of the room and having a good sense of humor are also things that have kept our venture going.
Question: It's not often Four80East makes it out to the West Coast.
Grace: We love coming to California and we'd come more often if the schedule permitted but Rob and I are always juggling the group's demands with our other professional demands as produces and music writers for film and television. The bulk of our TV/film audio production happens in the fall and winter so that allows us to tour Four80East during the spring-summer months. Generally, we do a gig or two every weekend during the summer.
Question: What does your composing and recording process look like?
Grace: Our recording process hasn't changed much over these six albums. Unless one of us has an obvious song idea, it usually begins with a visit to a very good friend of mine who happens to be record collector/dealer. I work better when I deliberately put myself in a creative "box" or give myself a defined number of sounds to work with in a particular track.
So I'll spend several days going through records looking for ideas, styles and sounds. I usually leave with a very heavy stack of vinyl and proceed to sample and dissect the recordings. I'm looking for sonic textures not riffs or loops, per se.
Today, there are effectively no limits to the ways you can manipulate sound so I use the sample as a starting point in our work and then manipulate the sounds and experiment from there trying to develop a sound or mood/vibe or sonic texture that will lead us to a rough sketch of the song or can be incorporated into an existing song. I also make my own drum loops, so I sit on the kit and record various drum/perc loops that I'll use on the recording as well.
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