4-Sight Webster defines the term “Foresight” as both “the act of looking forward” :and a “provision for the future.” Both apply perfectly to the progressive, contemporary approach the members of 4-Sight take to jazz on the quartet’s self titled debut for N2K Encoded Music. Each member of the visionary ensemble — saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Gregory Hutchinson — is an accomplished young musician steeped in the grand traditions of the genre. They first realized the chemistry they had as a unit while touring with young jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove in 1994. Yet, jazz is merely the focus, the jumping off point for them; the music they make as 4-Sight combines those traditions with a hip, groove-intensive, modern sensibility.
The decidedly swinging, urban elements that drive their sound — heard most decidedly on high strutting retro funk gems like MarUn’s “Parabola” and “In The Flow;” Hutchinson and Martin’s “En Jai lad” — can be attributed to both geography and the pop music culture of the ’70s that played a large part in 4-Sight’s individual upbringings. All grew up or settled in places where the groove in one form or another was king — Blake in St. Thomas, Martin in St. Louis before moving to his current home of New Orleans, Whitaker in Detroit and Hutchinson in New York. Island percussion and the pop/funk of Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone were as much a part of their experiences as jazz greats Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
“The concept for 4-Sight is based in straight-ahead jazz, but with the opportunity to also reflect the music of the time we are living in,” says Ron Blake, who at 32 is the band’s eldest member. “Whether exploring tempos that were fast, slow or medium, we’d work the kind of grooves we grew up listening to. Our goal is to present acoustic music on a high level, but with rhythms that are popular and familiar to younger audiences.”
Gregory Hutchinson, 27, who with Rodney Whitaker provides the rhythmic foundation for the band’s powerful melodies and improvisations, feels that as young jazz players, it’s their responsibility to look to the future of the art form. As he says, “The band’s name speaks of our attitude, where we’re trying to take the music and contribute to its evolution. We’ve all played with great musicians on our own, yet together it’s something different and special. We want the jazz we play to be here and now, not stuck in the past. You’ve got to reach people on a level they can understand, not sacrificing the tradition but meeting halfway at a place that’s not overly complicated.”
Peter Martin, 27, and Rodney Whitaker, 30, believe the chemistry that fuels 4-Sight’s visions is a direct outgrowth of the kind of organic music that comes only from complete trust and understanding. Martin explains, “From very basic melodic sketches, we can build the excitement of fully realized compositions. We put the song ‘Visions of the Past’ in the middle of the album because it reflected the simplicity of our ‘roll the tape and see what happens’ approach. Each of us brings a certain musical intelligence to the table and offers input at the appropriate time naturally, with freedom and without much analysis. Without words sometimes, we simply agree on what makes musical sense.”
Whitaker adds. “We all bring in something unique and trust our judgements and sense of adventure. Underlying it all is a certain respect and various personal friendships we share with one another. The trust we have, this playing off of each other’s feelings at any given time, is what propels the music and allows it to transcend style limitations.”
Playing with Hargrove in the studio and on European and Japanese tours in 1994, the quartet realized the sound they created behind the trumpeter was worth pursuing apart from that situation. Blake stayed on with Hargrove while the others moved on to different sideman gigs Yet they kept in touch, and each sat in or subbed with the others at a few scattered gigs over the intervening years. Finally, Whitaker and Hutchinson were working with Teodross Avery under the supervision of producer Carl Griffin, who would soon become the Vice President of A&rR for N2K Encoded Music. A few rough studio tapes and months later, the ensemble that would become 4-Sight put on a showcase for the label in the fall of 1997. The natural flow of the music and the overwhelming response to the performance fed to the formal signing of the band.
Next on the agenda was finding a comfortable place to record their first album, a locale that might provide a relaxed atmosphere conducive to four old pals committing the musical reflection of their longtime friendship to disc. They found what they were looking for at producer Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studio in Martin’s adopted home of New Orleans.
Kingsway is an unconventional place to record, literally a ten-bedroom mansion where bands can stay while they record their projects. There are five recording rooms that are more like living rooms than formal studios. They stayed there for a week and all agree that the laid-back vibe of the place played an integral part in the album’s creation, enabling the band to capture the majority of the basic tunes in one or two takes. “Most studios make you feel like you have to rush to beat the hefty costs,” says Hutchinson. “But here, we blocked off a week, got up when we wanted, slept when we wanted, and just took our time. That tease is reflected in the music.”
While Martin first ran into Hutchinson when he moved to New York in the late ’80s, and the Hargrove tour was the flashpoint of 4-Sight’s existence, each of the members brings to the band years of accolades and experience with some of jazz’s biggest names.
Ron Blake achieved success in classical music before committing to a full time jazz career. His resume includes festival performances worldwide with Wilbur Campbell’s Chicago All-Stars, Louis Bellson/Clark Terry Big Band, Nancy Wilson, Gary Bartz, Roy Hargrove, Bobby Hutcherson, and the slide Hampton lazz~Orchestra. His appearances as a sideman includes work with Von Freeman, Art Farmer, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Marc Cary, and Stephen Scott. He also led his own trio, working regularly in the Chicago area before receiving an appointment as Assistant Professor of jazz Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Recording dates include three Art Farmer cds, three Roy Hargrove cds, and Dianne Reeves’ Quiet After The Storm. He has lived in New York since 1992.
Raised in St. Louis, Peter Martin attended lulliard and Florida State University. He’s toured Japan, Europe, the Phillippines, Israel and the U.S. and toured with a veritable who’s who of jazz: Betty Carter, Joshua Redman, Dianne Reeves, Mark Whitfield, Wynton Marsalis and Nicholas Payton. He’s also written big band arrangements for the Harry Connick, Ir. Orchestra and contributed to an ABC-TV score.
Rodney Whitaker has played extensively in his hometown of Detroit with musical veterans Marcus Belgrave, Donald Waldon, Kenneth Cox, Francisco Mora, Alma Smith, Barry Harris, Tommy Flannigan and many others. On a more global scale, his resume includes dates with Wynton Marsalis, The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Branford Marsalis, Johnny Griffin, foe Henderson, Joshua Redman, Stanley Turrentine, Antonio Hart, Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard and Betty Carter. He’s also appeared on “The Tonight Show with lay Leno” and performed on the soundtracks for Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. Whitaker is also a professor at Michigan State University.
Ever since his professional debut with late trumpeter Red Rodney, Gregory Hutchinson has followed in the footsteps of the jazz drumming tradition. Born in Brooklyn, he’s played, like several of his 4-Sight cohorts, with Betty Carter and Roy Hargrove, as well as foe Henderson (on the acclaimed Lush Life), Christian McBride, Joshua Redman and pianist Eric Reed. Currently a member of the Ray Brown Trio, Hutchinson has contributed to five of Brown’s recordings on Telarc razz. He lives in South Pasadena, CA.
Four individuals with unique musical sensibilities. Four distinctive professional musical pedigrees that have long intersected. Four visions for the hope of jazz in the new millenium. They all come together to carry on the glorious traditions in 4-Sight. To quote Hutchinson, “It’s not always easy to define how the magic works. The songs are open and swing, but they swing our own way.
Welcome to the future of jazz.
For more information about 4-Sight, see their website.