Al Foster – Been there, done that…
Al Foster – Reflections – Smoke Sessions Records #SSR-2203 – 67:57 – ****
(Al Foster – drums; Nicholas Payton – trumpet; Chris Potter – tenor and soprano sax; Kevin Hays – piano and Fender Rhodes; Vincente Archer – bass)
To say that jazz drummer, Al Foster, has been on the jazz scene, for decades as a vital force, is an understatement. Let’s check a few boxes:
He made his recording debut at age 20 backing trumpeter, Blue Mitchell.
Al played with Miles Davis’ groups from 1972-1985, covering much of Miles’ post bop, electric, and jazz/pop endeavors.
Foster has been the first call drummer for Kenny Barron, Tommy Flanagan, Joe Henderson, Duke Jordan, Dave Liebman, Frank Morgan, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, McCoy Tyner, and Cedar Walton. Each of these legends recognized Al Foster’s master of the groove, an ability to fit right in no matter what mood the leader was setting. Al was noted for his “telepathic communication” skills.
For his second release for Smoke Sessions Records, a boutique label noted for pairing jazz veterans with first rate musicians, Foster chose to honor some of the legends he played with, in a career now spanning near seven decades. On his new CD, Reflections, Al honors Rollins, Tyner, Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Miles, and bookends two self-penned originals written with affection for Thelonious Monk.
As usual the label has first rate talent for its leader. The quintet is comprised of Nicholas Payton on trumpet; Chris Potter on sax; Kevin Hays on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Vincente Archer on bass.
“Pent House” from Sonny Rollins has the requisite Rollins drive, as Chris Potter digs in strong, as does Payton. Foster’s cymbal work shimmers. Potter’s “Open Plans” is a mellow ballad, and the horns blend nicely. The title of McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” tells you what you need to know. It’s a nice feature for Potter’s tenor skills.
Foster wrote “Anastasia” for his granddaughter, and its tenderness is evident with a sweetness brought to the forefront by Potter’s soprano sax, Nicholas Payton’s burnished trumpet, and Kevin Hays’ piano lines. Payton’s “Six” follows, and its funky melody is joyous. Nicholas channels late period Miles with his trumpet solo. “Punjab” is immediately recognizable, as it was a Joe Henderson staple, and the quintet does it proud.
Herbie Hancock’s “Alone and I” would fit right in on a late night session, and Kevin Hays’ gentle probing piano feels just right. “Half Nelson” from Miles Davis, has the horns sparkle with a hard boppish feel. It was a highlight for me.
Al Foster’s “Monk’s Bossa”closes this superb Jan. 2022 recording. It mixes Monk-like piano lines with a bossa nova feel, set in motion by Foster’s stick work.
Approaching his 80th birthday, Al Foster, remains a vital force. His affection for the legends he backed throughout his lengthy career, is on full display on this classy release. There will be a time when the rising star jazz drummers of today will do the same for this iconic drummer…
Blues on the Corner
Alone and I