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Mark Turner/Gary Foster: Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster (Capri)

A review of the album featuring the two saxophone players from a 2003 concert

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Mark Turner and Gary Foster, Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster
The cover of Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster by Mark Turner and Gary Foster

The liner notes to this two-CD set do not explain how the meeting came about or why it took 16 years to release its results. Perhaps only critics fret over such uncertainties. What matters is that on Feb. 8, 2003, Mark Turner (an adventurous New York tenor saxophonist, not yet as prominent as he would become) and Gary Foster (almost 30 years older, a fixture on the Los Angeles studio scene, already a cult figure among alto saxophonists) performed a concert in an auditorium in Claremont, Calif. It was the only time they ever played together.

They were musicians with dissimilar styles from different generations, but they met on common ground: the arcane melodic/harmonic environment associated with Lennie Tristano, Warne Marsh, and Lee Konitz, often imprecisely categorized as “cool.” The concert turns them loose for an hour and a half on rich repertoire like Tristano’s “Lennie’s Pennies,” Konitz’s “Subconscious-Lee,” and Marsh’s “Background Music.” The chordless quartet contains bassist Putter Smith and drummer Joe LaBarbera.

The event feels loose and casual. The format is unapologetically head-solos-head. Tracks and solos run long. Turner has time for a vast five-minute a cappella cadenza that finally crystallizes into “Come Rain or Come Shine.”

This album is one long seamless continuum of melodic theme-and-variation. Two exceptional improvisers derive a remarkable quantity of attractive spontaneous ideas from their source materials. The best track is the shortest. Foster opens “What’s New?” with a soft cry straight up from the soul, languidly, shamelessly caresses the melody, then floats slowly downriver on the gentle currents of the song. The audio quality of this live recording is just good enough to allow the listener to revel in Foster’s alto saxophone sound, one of the most seductive in jazz.

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Thomas Conrad

Thomas Conrad has a BA from the University of Utah and an MA from the University of Iowa (where he attended the Writers Workshop). He taught English at Central State University in Ohio, then left the academic world for the private sector. His affiliation with publications such as JazzTimes, Stereophile, The New York City Jazz Record and DownBeat has enabled him to sustain active involvement in two of his passions: music and writing.