Al Foster, Reflections Review
by Nolan DeBuke
Al Foster is releasing his latest album titled Reflections. For the legendary drummer, reflection consists of eight decades with exhilarating sounds and encounters with some of the music’s most iconic legends. Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Sonny Rollins, and McCoy Tyner are some of those legends. All of them regarded Foster as their first-call drummer for long portions of his celebrated career – sometimes competing for his services. Reflections is eleven selections that contain works of the legends he has performed with as well as featuring an inspiring quintet of today’s all-stars: Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Chris Potter (saxophone), Kevin Hays (piano, Rhodes), and Vicente Archer (bass). Besides the arrangement of well-known jazz tunes, Foster penned three songs, including two homages to Thelonious Monk that bookend the album.
“Pent-Up House” finds the ensemble taking the Sunny Rollins’ original at a brisk pace. Payton and Potter state the melody for the first time in unison before Potter breaks off into harmony. Foster’s swing is buoyant as his snare interacts with the soloist. Potter’s solo is first; his motivic development and rhythmic creativity are outstanding, which is why he is one of the greats of jazz saxophone on the scene today, as he demonstrates such creativity and power while still being firmly planted in the heritage of the jazz language. Payton’s playing is fluid as he builds in his register and the activity of his ideas. Archer and Foster have a pocket that will surely put a smile on your face; it certainly did the soloist.
Foster’s “Monk’s Bossa” is a relaxed bossa with multiple Monkism’s over a standard set of changes with a few twists to ensure you pay attention. Hays does a fine job of incorporating the language of Monk in with his modern ideas during his piano solo. Foster’s cymbal playing during Payton’s solo is engaging and pushes the soloist. Finally, Potter turns in another dissertation on modern jazz saxophone and its melodic power and expressiveness.
Reflections capture a glimpse of the ability and vitality that has allowed Foster to contribute to the fabric of jazz with jazz giants for over his 60 years as a professional. The album marks Foster’s fifth recording as a leader, and the notoriously self-critical drummer surprisingly says, “It is my best record yet.” I agree, and hearing this outstanding ensemble play these well-known jazz tunes, and Foster’s three originals is a welcome addition to my jazz catalog of top-shelf albums.