May 17, 2010 — Over the last seven years, Times 4 has established itself as one of the most exciting live attractions on the San Francisco Bay Area music scene. Whether playing major venues under their own name or opening for national touring acts on festival stages, Times 4 has made a solid impression.
Their tight grooves and improvisational prowess have also translated well to disc. Times 4’s third CD Eclipse, due out June 1 from their Groove Tonic Media label, finds the group really coming into its own. “The communication between the members has become much stronger,” says soprano and tenor saxophonist Lincoln Adler. “There is a real unity in the way we support each other in both solos and ensemble playing.”
“We believe that this CD really reflects Times 4 coming together as a band,” adds bassist Kevin Lofton. “It was truly a collaborative effort.”
Literally collaborative, in that most of the disc’s selections were co-composed and arranged by the group, which also includes keyboardist Greg Sankovich and drummer Maurice Miles. For the first time on record, the band has added non-originals to their program as well: John Coltrane’s “Naima,” and “Eighty One,” the Ron Carter/Miles Davis composition from Davis’s 1965 E.S.P.album. “We just did them Times 4’s way,” says Maurice.
L. to r.: Kevin Lofton (bass), Maurice Miles (drums), Greg Sankovich (keyboards), Lincoln Adler (tenor and soprano saxophones).
Coming up with a simple tag to categorize Times 4’s style isn’t easy. “Times 4 has ended up between genres,” Adler observes. “Because we just decided to play the music that comes from our hearts, we didn’t turn on the style filter when it comes to composing, so there’s funk, there’s jazz, and there’s a lot of improvisation. I’ve always been a bit frustrated with the urge to classify music by style. My favorite mixes will go from jazz to classical to Afro-Cuban to R&B to pop to African to tango to lots of things in between.”
Sankovich calls the band’s music “a Bay Area concoction.” Miles describes it as “contemporary with an edge,” and for Lofton it’s “a nice hybrid of cerebral jazz with more of a backbeat.”
In its early days, Times 4 was fortunate to land a steady gig at Straits in San Jose that, over a two-year period, enabled them to refine their improvisational approach to jazz, funk, and soul. All Music Guide wrote of their 2004 debut Seductivity that it “succeeds as both funky dance music and a fine example of the funkier side of jazz.” Material on that CD and its follow-up Relations (2007) drew heavily from open-ended jams created on the bandstand.
For Eclipse, the four musicians took their time coming up with the disc’s collective compositions. But the actual recording went quickly; the album was completed in a two-day session at Berkeley’s Fantasy Studios. Sankovich had the opportunity to use several of the facility’s vintage keyboard instruments, including an acoustic grand piano that had been played by Bill Evans. “I kissed it first,” Greg quips about playing the grand.
Times 4 functions as a democracy in which in each member has an equal voice. The group’s uncanny musical cohesiveness is an outgrowth of that process. “As musicians,” Sankovich says, “we try to listen to the spaces of conversations, more than to the actual words. We try to listen to the groove. When everybody is firing on all cylinders, then we know we’ve got a decision.”
In addition to performing a CD release event on 6/2 at San Francisco’s new Coda Jazz Supper Club, Times 4 will also be appearing at the Headly Room in San Jose on 7/9, the Sunnyvale Jazz & Beyond series on 7/10, and other dates now in the works.