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Frank Foster: Leo Rising

The self-congratulating jazz departments of US major labels past and present should be pilloried for letting Frank Foster go a quarter of a century without leading a record date, not to mention never giving him a quartet date. Thankfully, there are civic minded independent labels like Arabesque who pick up the slack and, in producing albums like Foster’s Leo Rising, give the party line about celebrating America’s jazz heritage at least an iota of credibility.

Luckily, even one’s most toxic bile quickly drains away upon hearing the rousing opening choruses of “You’re Only as Old as You Look,” a mid-tempo blues Foster mines like the Comstock lode. Foster’s art lies in his projection of a relaxed energy, a combination of a quick wit, acute insights, and graceful execution, so it’s not surprising that Foster’s mastery of the tenor can be thoroughly demonstrated through such a simple vehicle. Allowing his solo to be buoyed by the shuffle suggested by Christian McBride, Foster creates a richly detailed narrative from a stock plot line by nudging the bassist and his section mates-pianist Stephen Scott and drummer Lewis Nash-to tint and shade his every phrase.

Foster’s temperament is an especially valuable asset when the material has a bit of an edge. “Simone” begins with a keening balladic statement over bowed, piano cascades, and cymbal swells, giving way to a sleek altered blues form in 6/8. After a boldly stated introduction based on a eight note figure, the title tune shifts between brooding six and five beat grooves, with a brisk double-time section in four squeezed in to keep everyone on their toes. On both pieces, Foster’s solos are lean and muscular-his soprano on the latter has an effective acidity-but he retains his signal subtlety and warmth. Derrick Gardner contributes fluent trumpeting to both the title piece and the smoking closer, “Derricksterity.”

Add pairs of pensive ballads and simmering sambas, and you have a balm-like program that will quell the most righteous outrage.

Originally Published