Al Foster: Reflections

Drummer Foster marks his upcoming 80th birthday with tunes linked to employers including Miles Davis, Tyner, Monk, Rollins and Hancock


Approaching 80, drummer Al Foster looks back upon a prolific and fulfilling career in mainstream and fusion jazz. Foster forged longstanding associations with Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson and Sonny Rollins, all of whom are celebrated on Reflections, a title that literally refers to a well-known composition by Thelonious Monk.

Foster played with Monk in 1969 and contributes two Monk-tinged tunes to his fifth album as a leader, a winning combination with middle-aged heavyweights Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Chris Potter on tenor and soprano saxophone.

Palpably buoyed up by the presence of the elder statesman of jazz drumming, Payton and Potter have their authoritative and fiery say. Potter races through the curves of the relentlessly swinging Rollins composition Pent-Up House, a daredevil crossing the Indy 500 finish line with strands of hay between the straps of his helmet, arguably playing the tenor solo of the year.

Payton’s golden tone is the ultimate ear candy and sets Potter’s ballad Open Plans in full bloom. His playing on the mid-tempo tunes, particularly the jaunty T.S. Monk by Foster, through his placing of accents, large intervals and seemingly effortless, buoyant high notes reveals Payton’s love for the daddy of them all, Louis Armstrong.

They demonstrate a special approach to melodic rhythm anyhow and blend exceptionally well with Foster’s angular drumming style. A tasteful piano-less take on McCoy Tyner’s Blues On The Corner links Foster’s album to his role on the State Of The Tenor record of Joe Henderson in 1995, with Foster chasing his dudes down for their soul with precision and flair. Potter responds with Rollins-like, off-beat pins and needles.

An excellent addition to the lively group interaction throughout, Hays takes centre stage with a gorgeous cover of Hancock’s Alone And I. The only qualm is Payton’s Six, a fine Fender Rhodes and groove-fuelled retrospection on Davis’s and Hancock’s fusion period, because it breaks the spell of Reflections’s otherwise modern-mainstream stance. To be sure, a near-perfect programme that outpaces most of what jazz has to offer nowadays.

T.S. Monk; Pent-Up House; Open Plans; Blues On The Corner; Anastasia; Six; Punjab; Beat; Alone And I; Half Nelson; Monk’s Bossa; (67.57)
Nicholas Payton (t); Chris Potter (ts, ss); Kevin Hays (p); Vicente Archer (b; Foster (d); New York City, 25 January 2022.
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