Four Friends (Eneka Albizu and Iñaki Iraeta, guitars; Eider Saratsaga, voice and percussion; Fernando Iraeta, bass and Jorge Gomez, drums) formed in october 1999, when students and teachers at a school of music in Bilbao decided to start rehearsing regularly with the sole aim of having fun playing covers and a few originals in the styles they liked: classic rock, jazzy blues, funk…
They soon built up a repertoire of tight instrumentals, mostly with a 50’s-60’s jazz vibe, and started playing the club circuit in their native Basque Country. By 2003 they’d raised enough money from gigs to buy a week of studio time in one of the area’s top recording studios, Tio Pete, where they proceeded to record their first CD (“Bilbop”, Hotsak 2003), a collection of instrumentals which mostly consisted of first takes and included a combination of covers (Horace Silver, Ronnie Earl…) and originals. Jose Lastra’s engineering work emphasised the freshness and the clean interplay of guitars set against a solid and swinging rhythm section. Harmonica, flute and saxes were added to the basic FF line-up for variety and a more expansive, jazzier texture. “Bilbop” was described in local and national reviews as “a superb swing and blues album”, with “outstanding production and a lovely vintage/retro atmosphere”, “fine guitars, drops of blues, a jazz aura, touches of swing and respect for tradition”. It is, in the words of one reviewer, “a well-balanced instrumental work” with “taste and elegance”. Another music journalist called it “…inebriating…a delight”.
After enlisting Joe Gonzalez (winds), the Friends kept gigging and were in demand as a top hotel/conventions lounge act, also taking part in events such as theatre festivals, poetry/jazz sessions, even biker gatherings! After three years they were ready for their second album, also recorded at Tio Pete with Lastra handling the sound. About a month prior to the recording sessions, the band got in touch with a great young female vocalist, Izar Herrán, and after a few rehearsal sessions they asked her to perform in a few cuts on the new album. The result was “Dzanga” (Hotsak 2006), which was again praised for its “elegant, classic sound” and “surprising and excellent covers of jazz, blues and soul classics by Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Tiny Grimes or Marvin Gaye”. A couple of originals point in a new direction, but the album is strong in unusual reinterpretations of familiar material (a funky “So what”, a rockabilly “Fever”…) The band’s sound was complemented by the collaborations of Cuban pianist Daniel Amat’s percussion and, once again, the biting harmonica of Carlos Jover, plus Gonzalez on saxes and, on four of the eleven tracks, the “splendid female voice of Izar, whose “bluesy registers” have amazed both reviewers and live audiences. “Dzanga” (a Basque onomatopoeia for the splashing sound of diving into water) was regarded by a critic as a “surprising step forward” for the band, probably due to the inclusion of vocals and how the production and the additional musicians enhanced the quartet’s simple but effective arranging skills. Also recorded in less than a week and with minimum overdubs, it still boasts the “clean, retro guitar sound” that has become the band’s trademark, but adds a few pleasant surprises to the mix (don’t miss the slow, sweet instro cover of “What’s Going On”).
In early 2008, another great new vocalist/percussionist is enlisted as a replacement for Izar, who decides to pursue a solo career in blues/folk/country. Eider Saratsaga, who also sings in her own band Melt, quickly becomes the “fifth friend” and seems to fit the band like a glove. With Eider on vocal duties, Four Friends then recorded and released “Haruntzago” (Hotsak, 2009) a fully vocal work on which the band provided their usual palette of flavours, adding a pop-rock sensibility with a tinge of the folk music of their native Basque Country to the Afro-American roots of the genres they love and respect, with a little less emphasis on improvisation and a stronger focus on composing/arranging (all tracks but one are originals).
JR Madariaga, world-class mountaineer and poet, wrote most of the lyrics, adapting Basque phonetics to more universal types of song structures. Fast forward five years of gigs, and they release “Now Or Never” (Brixton Records, 2014), a collection of covers inspired by Four Friends’ participation in the Izar&Star cycle in which local bands pay homage to their influences. Recorded in a day and a half at El Tigre studios in Deusto, Bilbao, it’s a first-take affair (no headphones or click track) that faithfully reflects the band’s live sound. The album is a tribute to the great female voices in the jazz/blues genres, including classic divas (Billie Holiday, Etta James, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone…) and more contemporary artists that have added to the legacy of the greats (Diana Krall, Eva Cassidy, Lisa Ekdahl or Madeleine Peyroux among others).The songs are mostly standards written in the first half of the 20th century, arranged in the trademark FF style of clean guitars with lots of swing, shades of retro-R’n’R, and always with Eider’s elegant and sensual vocals up front, showing a wide range of registers: the up-tempo swing of “Devil May care” or “Cheek To Cheek”, the elegance of the blues ballad “At Last”, the sensual bossa of “Shiny Stockings”, a soul-jazz reading of “Now Or Never” or the 50’s R’n’R of “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”.
And three years later Four Friends complete the “Now or Never” project (at least for the time being) with a second volume of covers of classic tunes in the R’n’B, jazz/blues and retro-rock genres, most of which were popularised by some of the great female vocalists in the previous century. “Now or Never Vol. 2” is also recorded “live in the studio” in less than a day at El Tigre Studios and continues to showcase the band’s ability to re-dress old songs in new clothes: from a funk reading of the Gershwin classic “It Ain’Necessarily So”, or a swinging Hammond-vibe “Misty”, to the soul-rock of “I Thank You” and the bluesy balladry of “Gee Baby”. Other classics included in Four Friend’s 5th album are “People Get Ready”, “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Stormy Monday”, all of them given the two-guitar treatment with a variety of juicy textures, backed up by a solid rhythm section and with Eider’s vocals in the foreground.
On Thursday April 23rd , 8:30 pm, the band will be presenting this 2nd volume of their “Homage to the Divas” project at the Antzokia Theatre. No tickets needed for the show, it’s free!
Do you you want a taste of their new album? Click play and enjoy!
Written by Iñaki Iraeta, English Teacher at Iberlingva