Only 16 when he started playing trio gigs with the likes of Larry Willis and Eddie Gomez, drummer Al Foster has spent six decades as a not-so-secret special groove ingredient enlivening performances and sessions by a long list of heavy hitters. For Inspirations & Dedications, a rare outing as a leader, Foster deploys his working quintet on two pieces by mentors, and 11 originals honoring family members and a friend.
Tunes by Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, both of whom benefited from Foster’s artful rhythmic ministrations, serve as bookends on the recording. Herbie’s “Cantaloupe Island” opens with low-slung funk, a showcase for Dayna Stephens’ reedy, rangy tenor attack before trumpeter Jeremy Pelt’s rapid-fire volleys urge Foster to kick the proceedings up several notches and then stretch the rhythm a bit behind pianist Adam Birnbaum’s solo. And Miles’ funkified, playful “Jean-Pierre” is an exercise in creative groove digging, featuring invigorating interplay between the horn players and the rhythm section.