Times 4 functions as a democracy in which in each member—Lincoln Adler (saxophones), Greg Sankovich (keyboards), Kevin Lofton (bass), and Maurice Miles (drums)—has an equal voice. The group’s 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. Words are wholly inappropriate to describe feelings and ideas on some levels. We try to listen to the groove. When everybody is firing on all cylinders, then we know we’ve got a decision.”
The tightly locking grooves that underpin the Times 4 sound are to a great degree the result of the time Lofton and Miles have spent together on bandstands.
Adler began playing various instruments at age five, focusing on clarinet before switching to saxophone while in high school after being inspired by Grover Washington Jr.’s “Mister Magic.” He later studied with the legendary Joe Henderson and Bay Area hero Hal Stein.
Sankovich started banging on the upright piano in his parents’ El Cerrito, California home – “That was my go-to thing to calm stress,” he recalls – before they hired a teacher. He subsequently studied with noted jazz pianists Al Zulaica, Art Lande, and Mark Levine.
Adler and Sankovich played together in the UC Berkeley Jazz Ensembles, with which they toured Europe in 1980. The saxophonist later moved to Los Angeles, where he became in-demand as a session player and composer for television and film and recorded four albums of his own and one with the band Rain-bo Tribe before returning home to Berkeley. During the same period (1983-94), Sankovich spent more than a decade in Tokyo performing with the fusion band Taikun, playing for television and radio productions, and working in an art gallery. While at the gallery, he met Chinese artist Lu Hong, whose striking paintings would years later grace the covers of all three Times 4 CDs.
Lofton’s initial bass inspiration was Bootsy Collins, and Miles taught himself to play drums by playing along with Prince’s “Lady Cab Driver.” The two musicians met at a high school party in San Jose in the late 1980s. “He was the only black kid playing with a Filipino Top 40 band,” Miles says of Lofton. “I introduced myself and let him know I play drums.” The two musicians would go on to perform together in the Bay Area funk band Protégé, then in a rhythm section backing Oakland rapper Kofy Brown, and now in Times 4.