On the followup to his 2019 Smoke Sessions release Inspirations and Dedications
, Al Foster celebrates the music of some heavy hitters with whom the 79-year-old journeyman drummer has recorded and toured over the decades. Like those famed artists, Foster knows how to bring out the best in his collaborators, this time an all-star group including trumpeter Nicholas Payton, tenor saxophonist Chris Potter, pianist Kevin Hays and bassist Vicente Archer.
Foster popped up on all kinds of releases during the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, including those led by the likes of Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner and Cedar Walton, always injecting those sessions with extra juice. On Reflections
, he leads his simpatico sidemen through an 11-track set defined by tasteful handcrafted arrangements, think-as-one ensemble playing and no shortage of surprising, sometimes raucous solos by the horn players.
The go-for-broke improvising begins in earnest on opener “T.S. Monk,” with Potter’s slow-winding and then rambunctious turn followed by Payton’s almost combative declarations, pushing hard against the groove. It’s one of two playful, bluesy Monk-saluting Foster originals on the disc; the drummer first worked with the legendary pianist-composer in 1969, during a two-week stint at New York’s Village Gate. The other Monk tribute, closer “Monk’s Bossa,” starts with a solo-piano riff referencing “Straight, No Chaser” before abruptly shifting to a mellow melody over bossa rhythms, the horns later duplicating that initial Monk-ish figure.
Foster spreads his love for other former employers throughout the program. Highlights include Sonny Rollins’ “Pent-Up House,” its familiar stair-stepping melody first played in unison by the horns, with Potter hitting a harmony line the second time through the head; Tyner’s earthy “Blues on the Corner,” with Potter, Archer and Foster going it alone as a trio; and Miles’ “Half Nelson,” its twisty bop head fitting hand in glove with the rhythm section’s sweet swing. Payton’s effects-laced “Six,” which moves from spacy to deeply funky, is reminiscent of electric Miles. Foster may be in a reflective mood, but there’s never a dull moment here. — Philip Booth