Our sixth album, Off Duty, is now available! What’s more, you can now download all our music directly from the source… head over to our new Music Store and fill up your digital cart! To order physical CDs, please visit our distributor, Distribution13.
Here’s a nice write-up from Jonathan Widran:
Don’t let the title of Four80East’s latest album Off Duty fool you—after over 20 years, veteran Toronto based composers and remix producers Tony Grace (beats and percussion) and Rob DeBoer (guitar, keyboards) are busier than ever, finding colorful melodic and grooving new twists on their trademark Nu Jazz vibe. While the titles of their previous hit albums En Route (2007) and Roll On (2009) reflected a dynamic high energy dance element in the mix—a sound they fully captured in their huge, award winning hybrid hit single “Noodle Soup”–Four80East is kickin’ back and chillin’ this time around with a fresh update on the classic acid jazz influence that drove their earlier recordings in the late 90s.
Not that the two multi-talented musicians couldn’t use a break like the New York City cab whose neon “Off Duty” sign (photographed by DeBoer) glows on the album cover. After working primarily in the studio for the first 17 years of their eclectic partnership, they’ve been hitting the road regularly since 2007, mixing it up onstage with some of contemporary urban jazz’s most popular artists at festivals and venues across the U.S. Since the release of Roll On, they’ve also expanded their longtime audio production business to launch Ooya, Inc., which focuses on TV and film composing. One of their long term gigs has been doing the music for Income property, a home improvement show on HGTV that debuted in 2009. Longtime fans of the duo know that their history includes recording their own albums as The Boomtang Boys, and producing and remixing for a variety of pop stars over the years as they built their film scoring resume.
“A lot of our Four80East recording schedule depends on when we get a break from all the behind the scenes projects we work on,” says Grace, “but we’re always working on new material in the background. For Off Duty, we buckled down after finishing a series of shows. We work on a lot of tunes separately at different times, then compile a short list of tunes to develop. When we get together, that’s where the real spark happens.”
From the time Grace and DeBoer went full throttle into their Four80East concept and recorded and released their 1998 debut The Album, their fans have been trying to come up with snappy phrases to describe their music. This wasn’t always easy to do because while their second release Nocturnal was also on the chilled out, introspective side, Round 3 (2002) was uptempo, En Route took on what DeBoer liked to call “our spyish mood, a James Bond-like world of espionage and Roll On built on their success in the urban jazz world.
“We never start out with a concept and that leaves us open to a lot of new ideas and experiments in the lab, so to speak, which then combine to take a certain direction,” DeBoer adds. “Because we’ve built up such an arsenal of songs and snippets, we sometimes draw from older things we have done to build new tracks. ‘Noodle Soup,’ our biggest hit, was started 15 years before we finished and recorded it. We’re still refining tracks and adding and eliminating up to the final master. The final track on this album, ‘Gare du Nord,’ was a last minute addition that features the ambience of Union Station in Toronto. What makes this process fun is we never know what kinds of sounds will strike our fancy and inspire us.”
Some of those unique sounds this time come from the duo’s spirited interactions with flutist Bill McBirnie and longtime Four80East contributors Jon Stewart (saxophones) and Bryden Baird (trumpet). They’re also incorporating vocals this time in a unique way, sampling from two very different sources. The exotic female chanting soaring over and weaving into the multi-tempo chill-electronica fusion piece “Nothing Is Written” was originally recorded by vocalist Najwa Tannus for a Middle Eastern flavored track that Grace and DeBoer wrote in 2001. The crisp and funky, electro-jazz opening track “The Walker” (inspired by a constantly ambulatory homeless man on Toronto’s Richmond Street, near Four80East’s old studio) has a standout flute element and a recurring vocal sample “walking down the street” that the duo licensed from Rasputin Stash’s “Mr. Cool.”
Grace and DeBoer set the other moods of Off Duty with an expansive variety of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic textures, beginning with the bubbling bass, sax fills and ambient old school soul atmospheres of “Sandbar” (which builds in intensity to later include a fiery fusion of DeBoer’s electric guitar and Stewart’s sax) and wrapping with the haunting, stormy reflections of “Gare Du Nord” (also concluding with a soaring guitar solo). The cab may be off duty, but the duo never is. The silky and sensual “Cashed Out” is highlighted by hypnotic beeping, murky ambience and DeBoer’s spirited Rhodes sound over a shuffle groove. The dreamy “In The Hidden Garden” uncovers many chilled out delights, from a colorful Rhodes melody over a hypnotic groove to Barid’s muted trumpet melody and McBirnie’s whimsical flute solo. “Spun” doesn’t quite bring back the dance flow of Roll On, but the crisp, sparse thump and blinking synth melody makes it sound like it’s about to bust loose on the floor; it opts for a swirling jazzy piano romp instead. “With You” is a guitar driven pool of cool R&B ambience, while “Picking Up The Threads”—as its title implies—throws down a little bit of everything: new age ambience, jazzy hi hat, a lazy flugelhorn melody and grooves that shuffle, then thump. “Vaporized” recalls Four80East’s most trippy works, opening with haunting distant chords and easing into a mix of trumpet, disconnected voices and bubbling liquid synth sounds.
Part of the Four80East mystique is the dual identity Grace and DeBoer had for several years following the initial release of The Album. They kept recording as The Boomtang Boys, including the 1999 gold selling album Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 for Virgin, which included what they deem a “wonderfully cheesy” chart topping hit with “Squeeze Toy.” Their success as a band grew out of their extensive work as a first call dance remix and production crew throughout the 90s for numerous Canadian artists, including Bif Naked, Econoline Crush Ashley, Amanda Marshall, Corey Hart, Wild Strawberries, Ashley MacIsaac, Kim Stockwood and The Philosopher Kings.
The duo originally launched Boomtang in 1990 as a 12-inch label, releasing club singles to the U.K. Their production of Camille’s “Deeper Shade of Love” single won a Juno award in 1995 for best dance recording and went on to become the second biggest single at radio for Sony Germany. They showed a knack for hopping between genres by simultaneously earning a Juno nomination in the best R&B/Soul category for their production on Charlene Smith’s “Feel the Good Times.” In the 2000s, their expansive work flow included remixes and additional material for projects with Carol Pope, Billy Klippert and Kayle; co-writing and producing the film score and soundtrack for the Bravo film “When Moses Awoke”; and writing and producing for Fessional (“Summer Vibes,” which went Top 30 at CHR Radio), Colette Baron-Reid, Ash Lee Blade (an up and coming heavy metal artist), Simone Denny (“Cliché,” which hit #4 on Billboard’s Dance Singles chart) and pop legend Melissa Manchester.
Grace and DeBoer have whimsical views on what makes their longtime chemistry work. “There are a long list of bands that self destruct after a certain number of years because they never take a break from recording and touring, or balancing their work life with family,” says Grace. “Rob and I are both dads in the child rearing phase of our lives, and that helps to even things out.”
DeBoer adds: “I think we enjoy the simple process of finding funky new samples and atmospheric elements and exploring the possibilities those bring. So while Off Duty is more of a headphone album than a dance recording, you never know where the next idea is coming from that may spark a whole new sonic idea for us. When I met Tony years ago, I was fascinated with the little collection of gear he and his brother had. We loved tweaking knobs then and we love doing it now. All of this started with us having fun in the studio and seeing what we could do. Our tools have changed dramatically, but we still have that same sense of adventure.”