James Bond Rises in “Skyfall”

James Bond: Everyone needs a hobby…
Raoul Silva: So what’s yours?
James Bond: Resurrection.

What makes Skyfall the Best Bond movies since…well, since Casino Royale six years ago?  It is the Daniel Craig Bond Movie for People Who Don’t Like Daniel Craig Bond Movies.

When Casino Royale came out in 2006, it was my son and I sitting in the theater with an empty chair between us.   My wife, a die-hard Sean Connery fan, flatly refused to have anything to do with it.  She and my daughter wanted no part of a blonde Bond.  “And he’s ugly,” my daughter added.  My wife agreed.  She thought Craig looked like somebody Connery, the real James Bond would beat up.

Quantum of Solace comes along two years later and one again the women in the house turn up their noses at my offer to join us at the movie theater.  Upon reflection, I wish I had passed on that one myself.   It would have been a fine action picture on its own merits, but it was definitely a lesser Bond entry and was hobbled by being rushed into production trying to beat a writer’s strike (and it shows).

Four years later and Bond is back for Skyfall and once again, my son and I are there for the opening weekend and to my shock, so if my wife.  She says the trailers wore down her resistance.  “It looked good,” she says.

It is good.  There’s more shooting, running, chasing, crashing, jumping, fighting crammed in the first ten minutes than some “action” flicks have in two hours.  But this being 007, things do have to slow down to take a breath and set up the story.  The plot revolves around a stolen hard drive with the names of all of MI-6‘s covert agents, a cyber-terrorist who promises to expose five of them every week and his personal vendetta against M (Judi Dench) for reasons once revealed are a good reason to nurse a grudge.

Blonde, lethal, and flamboyant, Javier Bardem’s Silva can go toe-to-toe against Bond at his best and though cleared for duty after being shot and going missing for months, Bond is far from the top of his game.  What makes Bond not simply appealing but enduring is while he fights better, bangs more beautiful women, and rocks a tuxedo better than any other character ever dreamed up in any other medium, he isn’t a superhero and he doesn’t have a healing factor.   He bleeds, he can be killed, and he can get too old for the job.

Any similarities between these three is purely not coincidental.

The two threads that wind throughout Skyfall is the dire consequences when a spy stays in the cold too long.    Some of the best scenes are the quiet ones between M and Bond where Dench and Craig muse about their strange (and strained) relationship.   M: “You know the rules of the game. You’ve been playing it long enough. We both have.” Bond: “Maybe too long.” M: “Speak for yourself.”

When Bond isn’t calling M a “bitch” in response to a word association question, he’s going to extremes to save her from Silva.   Another agent who went rogue when M gave him up in a prison exchange to be locked up and tortured,  Silva is a monster, but M made him one and he’s determined to destroy his personal Dr. Frankenstein.

Silva and Bond share mutually unresolved mommy issues with M and a complicated love/hate relationship.   Never mind what the story is supposed to be about.  That’s what Skyfall is really about.   M is no so much  The Bond Girl as she is The Bond Woman.   Dench does an outstanding job playing a woman who has to make horrible decisions that have left her filled with regret yet stronger for doing a dirty job exceptionally well.   While  the buzz is Skyfall might be the Bond picture to snag a Best Picture nomination,  Dench deserves serious consideration for at least Best Supporting Actress.

It’s a dirty job and M is up to her neck in it.

There were doubts that Sam Mendes could handle a kinetic action flick as well as domestic dramas like American Beauty but he fills the bill more than adequately.   Mendes allows himself space to build the conflict between Bond, Silva and M until he picks up the pace to the next set piece.   It’s a dazzling bit of direction and the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan pulls off the neat trick of looking back into unrevealed parts of Bond’s past complete with pointed nodding and winking at instantly recognizable holler backs at earlier films over the last 50 years.

By the end of  Skyfall,  Mendes and Craig have positioned the franchise for a bright future.  Regardless of who the next director is, Craig is committed to utilizing 007’s license to kill for  two more movies and as the credits announce “James Bond will return,” instead of dreading the prospect,  it’s something to look forward to.    We should be thankful Jason Bourne came along to wipe away the lingering bad taste of Die Another Day and the kick in the ass prompted producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson to retire Pierce Brosnan and recruit the lean and mean Craig.    Liam Neeson’s Brian Mills has a special set of skills, but the Taken movies are about an inch deep in characterization.   It’s still James Bond who leaves us shaken and stirred.   To put it another way,  nobody does it better.

What We’re NOT Going to Get According to Rachel Maddow

Watching Rachel Maddow makes you smarter. It’s a scientific fact.

Okay, that’s enough.   Your prolonged temper tantrum has been quite amusing, disappointed Republicans, but it’s time to cut the crap.

It’s sad and tragic that some people are having such a hard time waking up to the realization that Obama is still president, but you’ve had a week to let that sink in.   After a respectable amount of time to give you time to accept you’ve got four more years to suffer through,  I don’t haven even  one more minute to waste waiting on Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Nugent, Sarah Palin, Mary Matalin, Victoria Jackson, Fox News and pissed off wives that run down their husbands for not voting to get over their Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Some of us are pretty pleased with how last Tuesday turned out.   Rachel Maddow is one of the smartest news personalities we have.  Watching her makes me smarter than I was before I tuned in.

Maddow ran down a list of what wasn’t going to happen with Barack Obama safely back in the White House.  It was quite a list and if anyone missed it, it bears repeating.

(1) “We are not going to have a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe vs. Wade. There will be no more Antonin Scalias and Samuel Alitos added to this court.”
(2) “We’re not going to repeal health reform. Nobody’s going to kill Medicare and make old people in this generation — or any other generation — fight it out on the open market to try to get themselves health insurance. We’re not going to do that.”
(3) “We’re not going to give the 20% tax cut to millionaires and billionaires, and expect [cutting] programs like food stamps and kids’ health insurance to cover that tax cut.”
(4) “We’re not going to make you clear it with your boss if you want to get birth control with the insurance plan that you’re on.”
(5) “We are not going to redefine rape.”
(6) “We are not going to amend the constitution to stop gay people from getting married.”
(7) We’re not going to double down on Guantanamo.
(8) “We’re not eliminating the Department of Energy, the Department of Education, or Housing at the Federal level.”
(9) “We are not going to spend two trillion dollars on the military, that the military does not want.”
(10) “We are not scaling back on student loans because the country’s NEW plan is that you should borrow money from your parents.”
(11) “We are not vetoing the Dream Act, we are not ‘self-deporting.’”
(12) “We are not letting Detroit go bankrupt.”
(13) “We are not starting a trade war with China on Inauguration Day in January.”


(14) “We are not going to have — as a president — a man who once led a mob of friends to run down a scared gay kid to hold him down and forcibly cut his hair off with a pair of scissors while that kid cried and screamed for help. (And there was NO apology, not EVER.)”
(15) “We are not going to have a Secretary of State John Bolton. We are not going to bring Dick Cheney Back. We are not going to have a foreign policy shop stocked with architects of the Iraqi war, we are not going to do it … We had the choice to do that if we wanted to do that, as a country, and we said no, last night, loudly.”

Ah, Rachel, if television is the idiot box, it’s no wonder the idiots hate you for refusing to dumb down your show to make stupid people (like this moron in Cincinnati) feel better about themselves.

Post-Election Psychos: Haters Just Keep On Hatin’

There’s a good reason the President has all those men in black following him around.

I’ve never been to Coldstone Creamery, but I hope their ice cream is better than some of the people who work there serving it up.   One of their employees in Sacramento, Denise Helms, 22, posted her shiny happy reaction on Facebook to the news of the president winning a second term.

“And another 4 years of the nigger. Maybe he will get assassinated this term..!!”

Social media never sleeps and Helms’ remarks soon drew the attention of a local TV station.  Helms didn’t seem to think what she said was any big deal.

“I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. … The assassination part is kind of harsh. I’m not saying like I would go do that or anything like that, by any means, but if it was to happen, I don’t think I’d care one bit.”

Helms cared enough to delete her original post and add a new one.  “So apparently my post last night about Obama got onto Twitter and Fox 40 came and interviewed me cause apparently a lot of people in Sacramento think I’m crazy and racist. WOW is all I got to say!! I’m not racist and I’m not crazy. just simply stating my opinion.!!!”

“…but I meant “nigger” in a NICE way!”

Ever notice how idiots who spout racist crap are so quick to proclaim they aren’t racist?     Is there a nice, non-racist way to call the president a nigger?

The Secret Service says they will look into the matter.  They tend to take threats against the President of the United States as serious business even when they are made by a dumb ass.

I have to say I’m a little concerned at how badly some people are taking Obama’s reelection.  Didn’t they even consider the possibility, however small, that Romney might lose?

Apparently not.  Some idiot in Texas is taking the prospect of four more years as such a grim prospect that he wants to secede from the United States.   A petition with over 51,000 signatures has been posted on the White House website.

The U.S. continues to suffer economic difficulties stemming from the federal government’s neglect to reform domestic and foreign spending. The citizens of the U.S. suffer from blatant abuses of their rights such as the NDAA, the TSA, etc. Given that the state of Texas maintains a balanced budget and is the 15th largest economy in the world, it is practically feasible for Texas to withdraw from the union, and to do so would protect its citizens’ standard of living and re-secure their rights and liberties in accordance with the original ideas and beliefs of our founding fathers which are no longer being reflected by the federal government.

The hell with Texas.  Let ’em walk.   Besides oil and Texans what else do we get from that batshit state?

Wait.  I liked Lyndon B. Johnson and Molly Ivins and they both were from Texas.  Hell with Texas.  Make ’em stay and suffer.   Bunch of whiny crybabies.

It’s too bad that Miss Helms and apparently the entire Lone Star state can’t accept the judgment of their fellow American citizens, but if I got through eight years of George W. Bush (former governor of the great state of Texas) they can get through for more years of Obama.

And if they can’t they can just take a big ol’ suck on the lighted end of my victory cigar.

Disbelieve In America.

It’s better when they don’t see it coming.

Since Election Night, I’ve watched more Fox News than all the nights leading up to Obama’s reelection.   I’m ashamed of the sadistic pleasure I’ve received from watching their on-air talent looking like shell-shocked soldiers.   You can see it in their eyes.  We were so sure.  How the hell did Obama win?

They thought they had it nailed.  Now?  It’s Disbelieve in America.

For anyone following Fox, they know the motto of the network is “fair and balanced.”  They’re so fair and balance that their most prominent personality used part of the post-election O’Reilly Factor to read letters from viewers “criticizing” the host (most viewers though O’Reilly hadn’t been tough enough on the president).

This was the week that “fair and balanced” was exposed as a punchline, not a principle.

What do sore losers look and sound like? They look and sound as ugly as Mary Matalin. You can feel the hatred seething out of her in waves.

The stench of rancid bitterness reeked from CNN contributor Matalin who could barely restrain  herself from leaping through the split screen and strangling Van Jones after Wolf Blitzer asked how the newly reelected president could find common ground with the GOP.  Now why did Wolf want to go and ask her a damn fool question like that?

Matalin is a bitter, shitty human being on her good days and she clearly wasn’t having a good day.   “I don’t care what you think, Van!”, she snarled as she bit off the head of a live puppy.    This is partly Mitt Romney’s fault.  His declaration that he had only written an acceptance speech was classless as well as brainless.  Romney couldn’t even conceive he could lose?    The concession speech he did make sounded as though he had just written it right before he went on stage and did nothing to dampen down the red-hot passions of his pissed-off supporters.

Look, I know it sucks to lose.  There’s no such thing as a good loss. But with the exception of the Democrats picking up two more Senate seats, this was pretty much a status quo election. Incumbents are notoriously difficult to beat and Obama is a better candidate than Fox News conservatives give him credit for.

The shock and awe of Obama winning a second term after all the experts said he was toast is still too raw and painful a wound for many. It would be unseemly and uncool for liberals to brag. Put those salt shakers away my fellow Lefties. The sense of impending doom our friends on the Right are feeling is identical to our own after the 2010 mid-terms when the Tea Party was ascendant.

Let Donald Trump call for a “revolution” against Washington (how much would Fox News freak out if Romney had won and some Scary Black Guy like Louis Farrakhan had echoed Trump’s call for blood in the streets?). Permit Mary Matalin her epic hissy fit on CNN as she rails against the president’s “derision, division, destruction, distraction and distortion.” Tolerate Terrible Ted Nugent raving about “pimps, whores and welfare brats.”

Elections do have consequences and bad side effects as well. What we’re witnessing in the Republican Party is a classic example of the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grieving and some folks need a little more time to get over denial and anger before they transition to bargaining and depression and finally reach acceptance.

They have four more years to get there. Hopefully Obamacare will help defray the cost of professional help.

Morris. Dick. Right At Being Wrong.

if Dick Morris were a zombie he would eat toes instead of brains.

MORRIS: Look, I believe that — and I’ve said this before and everybody either gives a sigh of a relief or a cynical laugh — there is no chance that Obama will get re-elected.

HANNITY: I don’t agree that’s true. I think it’s possible.

MORRIS: Zilch, none, zip, nada.

Dick Morris is a bullshit artist supreme. He’s been so wrong on so many things for so long he’s about as authentic as a porn queen’s orgasm, but he’s got job security.

After all he works for Fox News. Have you ever heard of anyone getting fired from Fox for being wrong?   In conservative media it matters less if you don’t know what you’re talking about as long as who you’re talking about is someone conservatives don’t like.   This is why Morris can say Obama stands no chance of being reelected and Mitt Romney would beat him in a “landslide.”

If Dick Morris were a weatherman in Des Moines he would have been fired by now for constantly forecasting snowstorms in the middle of August.

Ever wonder why someone who supposedly knows so much about political strategy is showing up on The O’Reilly Factor and Hannity instead of advising Mitt Romney or some other Republican candidate? Because they know Morris is a bug-fuck nuts prostitute toe sucker who has shit for brains, hasn’t been right about anything for years and whatever expertise he had evaporated right after Bill Clinton got rid of his prostitute toe sucking ass.

The only people who still take Morris seriously are Fox News viewers. Everybody else knows he’s a joke and not a good one.

Looks yummy!

Before rank-and-file conservatives ask, “What went wrong?”, they should ask themselves a question every bit as important: “Why were we the last to realize that things were going wrong for us?”

Barack Obama just trounced a Republican opponent for the second time. But unlike four years ago, when most conservatives saw it coming, Tuesday’s result was, for them, an unpleasant surprise. So many on the right had predicted a Mitt Romney victory, or even a blowout — Dick Morris, George Will, and Michael Barone all predicted the GOP would break 300 electoral votes. Joe Scarborough scoffed at the notion that the election was anything other than a toss-up. Peggy Noonan insisted that those predicting an Obama victory were ignoring the world around them. Even Karl Rove, supposed political genius, missed the bulls-eye. These voices drove the coverage on Fox News, talk radio, the Drudge Report, and conservative blogs.

Those audiences were misinformed.

Outside the conservative media, the narrative was completely different. Its driving force was Nate Silver, whose performance forecasting Election ’08 gave him credibility as he daily explained why his model showed that President Obama enjoyed a very good chance of being reelected. Other experts echoed his findings. Readers of The New York Times, The Atlantic, and other “mainstream media” sites besides knew the expert predictions, which have been largely born out. The conclusions of experts are not sacrosanct. But Silver’s expertise was always a better bet than relying on ideological hacks like Morris or the anecdotal impressions of Noonan.

It doesn’t take a degree in Political Science to tell you why hucksters like Morris should be ignored or on the odd occasions they actually get something right why it should be shrugged off as merely the sun shining on a dog’s ass.

Beware any “expert” who can no longer find employment in their chosen profession that always tells you exactly what you want to hear and nothing you don’t. That is a classic warning sign you are being bullshitted.

Most conservatives can handle the truth. By now they should have scoped out Morris as a sleazy, prostitute toe sucking snake oil salesman but it seems some of them have swallowed his swill for so long they can’t quit it even though they know it’s no good for them.

Morris isn’t going anywhere. Not so long as he continues to be a useful idiot spreading the manure for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes.

Barack Obama: The Winner and STILL President

President Obama

Whoa.  Guess I had a little too much to drink last night.  I thought I woke up the morning after President Obama was reelected and found one of my Obama/Biden signs gone and replaced with a Romney/Ryan sign.

Oh wait.  Somebody did rip off my sign.   That’s pretty ballsy.

Ha. Ha.  Very funny.  We got jokes.   Here’s another joke for the sign swiper.   Four more years.  How’s that taste?

There were a lot of boxing metaphors flying around during the debates.   Here’s one last one:  The winner, and STILL the President of the United States!  Barack Hussein Obama!

A lesson was served up to the GOP on Election Day.  Whether or not they recognize it is their problem.  The Republicans have pretty much exhausted race politics as a winning tactic.  It can still work now and then, but for the most part it’s been exposed as a strategy with no future.

Republicans can point to their control of the House of Representatives and have most of the nation’s governors.   Any power base is a good one and those are strong ones.    Their choice to  ignore voters of color to appeal exclusively to White voters has left the GOP locked out of the White House and denied Mitch McConnell the opportunity to control the Senate.

But, they had better get used to it. The line of the night that resonates with me is when George Will said if the 2020 Republican presidential candidate got ALL the White, Black, Latino and Asian votes John McCain got in 2008, they would lose by 14 million votes!

This country is becoming more diverse whether the GOP and Romney supporters want to admit it. Some sources are saying Obama got 75 percent of the Latino vote. Republicans CAN’T WIN a presidential election by only appealing to White, older voters.

I celebrate the president’s victory.  He got it the old-fashioned way.  He earned it.     On the matter of Mr. Romney and the ass kicking he just took, I savor it like a fine wine.  I delight and revel in it.  Call it  Schadenfreude, but it’s a thing a joy to see a rich man not get what he wants.

What winners look like.

Poor Mittens.  After all that time and money spent and all he has left is a adoring wife,  multiple homes and millions of dollars.   It must really suck to be him today.

Mitt Romney was a lousy candidate for President.  Uninspiring.  Inept.  Unprincipled.  He’s been running for the office for nearly eight years and nobody knows what his core beliefs are or if he even has any.   He’s the quintessential empty suit.   When he was the governor of Massachusetts he was a moderate Republican who favored a woman’s right to choose and gay rights.  Then he decided rather than chill in the Cayman Islands counting his money, he wanted to run for the presidency and all those previously held beliefs swirled down the toilet.

How could anyone say they are “proud” of the campaign Romney ran and the things he stood for?   The man was the Etch-A-Sketch Candidate.  Mitt believes in nothing except money and his divine right to rule.

Romney had no interest in making life better for his fellow Americans.  The only thing Romney’s has ever been good at is making money for stockholders and putting people out of work as their companies go bankrupt or move overseas.    Mitt’s overriding concern is protecting the interests of the One Percent he’s so happy to be a part of and if that means shafting students of loans or Granny of her Medicare, that’s just hard cheese.

Any man caught saying he doesn’t give a damn about half of the people he would propose to lead is totally unfit for the job.   Mitt Romney lost the election the day the American people heard what he really thought about them.

Romney said corporations were people and proceeded to act like one.  He’s a cold, bloodless automaton mouthing phrases he could barely say with a straight face and his own party could barely muster much tolerance for him.  Enthusiasm was almost nil as anyone who saw that sad little wiener roast in Tampa the Republicans called a convention and the only storyline anyone will remember from it is an old actor babbling to a chair.

In the end Romney was such a shockingly unaccomplished challenger he couldn’t be a weakened incumbent whose party had been curb stomped in 2010 with a stalled economy and unemployment near eight percent.  The turnaround specialist lost to an empty chair.

The Republicans are in terrible shape.  Their core demographic is too old, too far to the Right and looks too much like cocktail hour at a country club.   They’ve alienated young voters, Black voters, Latino voters and even Asian voters.   There is a limit to how much can be gained by allowing the extremists of a party dominate the message.   As presently constituted the Republican Party doesn’t look much like America.  It looks like Happy Days.

To quote that great philosopher Tony Stark, “Not a great plan.”

We…we LOST? But that’s unpossible!

Someone on Twitter remarked,  “Most Republicans I know are high-integrity, thoughtful, patriotic, moderate Americans. I hope they get to take their party back.”

Damn straight.  Instead of allowing the Tea Party types to scream, “We want our country back” the rank and file, REAL Republicans should be screaming, “We want our party back!”

They won’t get it as long as they think everything is fine and it’s the fault of those nasty liberals demonizing that nice Mr. Romney.    That’s  just delusional self-denial talking.  The Republican brand was rejected yesterday.    Look at the results and prove otherwise.

When Team Romney refused to hang it up after Ohio was announced for Obama I posted on Facebook,  “Romney doesn’t have to concede Ohio. Screw him. You don’t have to believe in gravity when you jump off a building. Not until you hit the ground.”

Yesterday the GOP went SPLAT!   When Obama finishes his term Democrats will have occupied the White House 16 of the last 24 years.  Explain to me how that bodes well for the Republicans went they are increasingly becoming isolated to the South and a few Western states?    California?  Off the board.   Virginia?  Looking kind of purple these days.   The Midwest?  Be happy for Indiana even if they just elected a Democrat to the Senate instead of a Tea Party whackjob who was yet another right-winger with weird ideas about rape.

Barack Obama’s win was no accident.  He has assembled an awesome team of political experts and a ground game that is second to none.   Obama waxed the ass of the most unscrupulous Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon and  like Nixon, Romney has secured his role in history as one of it’s biggest losers.

Don’t cry for the rich guy.

Four More Years? Absolutely!

When it was all said and done, I stood there and finally made my decision.

I decided to buy Canadian Mist instead of Jack Daniels.   I have my Coke.  I have my Canadian Mist.  I have the ice.  I have the clean glass.

All I need now is four more years for Barack Obama.

I have given the president’s campaign my time, my money and my vote.   Whatever else happens is all up to the voters across this country.   Every vote matters to someone and it doesn’t matter whether if it’s in the reddest of red states or the bluest of blue states.   Let me say that again:  EVERY VOTE MATTERS.   If it didn’t why would there be so much effort put into trying to prevent Americans from voting?

It’s been a long, grueling and tiresome election.   And God, has it been nasty!   I’ve seen so much anger, frustration, and hatred directed at Obama and Mitt Romney.    If this election went on another few weeks we might have people throwing punches at each other.   That’s about all that’s left.

I don’t plan on drinking to get drunk.  I plan on drinking to get loose.   This is a very stressful election and I can’t stop thinking about the woman who met my wife and I on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum and talked to us for a half hour about how much she wanted Obama to win.   She knew how important this election is and the thought of a cynical liar like Romney replacing Obama terrified her.

Let’s stay together.

The prospect of  President Romney doesn’t terrify me.  I survived eight years of Reagan, four years of Bush41 and another eight years of Bush43.  That’s 20 years worth of Republican presidents.   I’m pretty sure I can survive four years of Romney.   And I’ll have a hobby for the next four years: trying to make Romney a one-term president.

IF it comes to that.  I hope it doesn’t.  Obama deserves a second term.  The economy is improving.  Maybe not quickly, but definitely.   The war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan is winding down and if Obama is reelected there won’t be another war with Iran as there will be if Romney has anything to say about it.

There’s plenty of room for improvement if Obama wins a second term.   That improvement deserves another four years for Obama to finish the job he started in 2008.

It’s out of his hands though.   Now it’s up to the voters.   That’s how it should be.   I hope more of them agree with me than disagree.

Fourplay Begins Their Third Decade With “Esprit De Four”

You guys look relaxed, but what the hell does Harvey have on his feet?

Fourplay
Esprit De Four
Heads Up International
2012

Bands don’t last over two decades with minimal turnover in personnel and continued success if they’re composed of egotists, prima donnas, drama queens or people that just don’t play nice together. Fourplay has endured and thrived because it is an egalitarian coalition of seasoned professionals who set aside private agendas to serve the group dynamic.

When a new guitarist joins Fourplay it typically takes their sophomore recording with the long-running band before they truly begin to find their footing in the group. In over 20 years there have been only three personnel changes, with original guitarist Lee Ritenour being replaced by Larry Carlton, who manned the spot for 12 years and seven albums, until he exited and Chuck Loeb became the “new guy” on Let’s Touch the Sky (Heads Up, 2010).

Stability has been a strength for this assemblage of veteran musicians even if consistency has led the band to be dismissed by critics little more than slick, smooth jazz. That was truer before than it is now as the Fourplay of 2012 bears little resemblance to the 1991 version despite three-quarters of the lineup being still composed of founders Bob James, Nathan East and Harvey Mason.

James’ keyboards are still at the heart of the group, but whoever the guitarist is gives it much of its soul, and on Esprit De Four a lion’s share of the direction as well. Loeb is predominantly featured on the first four tracks and guides the group into making music that is too passionate to be “slick.” Even when East takes his standard vocal turn on “All I Wanna Do,” Loeb’s guitar is front and center leading the way.

This hardly means the rest of the band recedes into the background. Mason’s “Venus” is lush and lovely with James and Loeb gently trading leads before smoothly dueting to the close. “Sonnymoon” is the closest these old pros come to sounding like “classic” Fourplay, as the Mason and East rhythm section keeps things fast and funky. It’s just an excuse for four minutes of jamming, but let no one think Fourplay can’t still get down when it wants to.

If Loeb steps up to assert himself as primary soloist, James, who will turn 73 in December 2012, seems willing to relinquish some of the spotlight to Loeb, or at least doesn’t seem the least stressed out sharing it. James has a deep fondness for Eastern culture and his two contributions, “Sugoi” and “Put Our Hearts Together,” are evidence of that influence. “Put Our Hearts Together” (in both an instrumental and vocal version) is dedicated to the people of Japan in the wake of 2011’s horrific earthquake and tsunami. Esprit De Four eschews the Fourplay formula of American chart-topping guest vocalists such as Anita Baker or Michael McDonald in favor of a demonstration of cross-cultural outreach, as Japanese superstar Seiko Matsuda to provides the vocals for “Put Our Hearts Together.”

The charge most frequently levied at Fourplay by its detractors is that the music is safe and formulaic. While it would be an untruth to say this is the most freewheeling quartet in jazz, it’s petty to confuse popularity and acclaim with shallowness and superficiality. Fourplay cares too deeply about its music to ever become just another cynical superstar band conceived as nohting more than a cash grab.

Tracks: December Dream; Firefly; Venus; Sonnymoon; Put Our Hearts Together (instrumental); All I Wanna Do; Logic of Love; Esprit De Four; Sugoi; Put Our Hearts Together (vocal).

Personnel: Bob James: keyboards; Nathan East: bass, vocals; Chuck Loeb: guitars, synths; Harvey Mason: drums, percussion, vibes, synths; Seiko Matsuda: vocals (10); Lizzy Loeb: additional vocals (1); Kenny Mason and the Voices of Praise Choir

This review originally appeared at All About Jazz.com