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Al Foster: Reflections (Smoke Sessions)

A review of the drummer's album with modern day masters

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Al Foster: Reflections (Smoke Sessions)
The cover of Reflections by Al Foster

There’s always been something special about the drumming of now-octogenarian Al Foster. His light but firm touch, spacious yet driving time phrasing, and buoyant drum tone set him apart as much as any of the drummers he worshipped coming up. When you consider the masters Foster has served, from Monk to Miles, this veteran has much to reflect upon.

On his second album for Smoke Sessions Records, Reflections, Foster surrounds himself with modern-day masters: trumpeter Nicholas Payton, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist/keyboardist Kevin Hays, and bassist Vicente Archer. This quintet plays together like a well-oiled machine, each musician’s mighty personality serving the music.

Foster’s trademarks fill the album: delicate cymbal embellishments, popping snare jabs, sprightly ride playing. That indelible energy and feeling of bounce recalls not one of Foster’s early heroes, Art Taylor, but the tremendous force of nature that was Billy Higgins.

Reflections yields no great surprises or revelations, just 11 tunes that swing gracefully, hard, and completely, with the kind of solos only such a world-class team can deliver. Foster’s “T.S. Monk” gallops and grooves out of the gate, a memorable melody examined closely by four fire-breathing soloists. Sonny Rollins’ “Pent-Up House” sounds new and energized in the hands of this crew, Potter’s beautiful, soaring solo a joyous shout followed by Payton’s acerbic, poetic asides. Other highlights include a sweltering, drawing-blood reading of McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner”; a lilting, danceable version of Joe Henderson’s “Punjab”; and Miles Davis’ “Half Nelson,” which is so smooth, polished and chic, it’s hard to believe that Foster once bashed a hard two-and-four beat behind the trumpeter in his electric period.

Refined, swinging, and elegant, Reflections proves that advancing in age is a case not necessarily of getting older, but of getting better.

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Learn more about Reflections on Amazon and Apple Music.

Al Foster: Inspirations & Dedications (Smoke Sessions)

Ken Micallef

Ken Micallef was once a jazz drummer; then he found religion and began writing about jazz rather than performing it. (He continues to air-drum jazz rhythms in front of his hi-fi rig and various NYC bodegas.) His reportage has appeared in Time Out, Modern Drummer, DownBeat, Stereophile, and Electronic Musician. Ken is the administrator of Facebook’s popular Jazz Vinyl Lovers group, and he reviews vintage jazz recordings on YouTube as Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Lover.