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The glue that binds this meeting of two saxophonists 30 years apart in age is a shared admiration for the cool West Coast sounds of pianist Lennie Tristano and his most renowned students, Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.
Tenor man Mark Turner was a rising jazz star when this live set was recorded in Claremont, California, in 2003. Altoist Foster had for decades worked the fringes of the jazz world, and was most active as a studio player on movie and TV soundtracks. The duo is backed by drummer Joe La Barbera and bassist Putter Smith.
The program consists of seven tracks, all but one exceeding 10 minutes, featuring tunes by Marsh (“Background Music”), Tristano (“Lennie’s Pennies,” “317 East 32nd Street”) and Konitz (“Subconscious-Lee”). The extended solos are often interesting and occasionally rousing, but, mostly due to their length, routinely slip into tedium. This induces extended bouts of listener mind-drift.
Turner is a prober who tends to work through patterns at the expense of emotional clout. His light tone and penchant for the upper register are often alto-like, which at times makes it tricky to discern who is soloing. Foster, 66 at the time of the date, spikes his generally sweet tone with a dash of tartness, and, in all, delivers spunkier excursions than his frontline partner. The music perks up when the two horn men interact, slyly weaving together phrases to evoke chemistry that is otherwise lacking.
Smith’s playing is more propulsive than is heard in most West Coast jazz, lending the music an insistent swing that is complemented by La Barbera’s willingness to rarely stray from the pocket. However, neither excels as a soloist here, and their ample allotted space doesn’t amount to much.
Sixteen years ago, this performance was likely an engaging experience for the small audience on hand at the Mary Pickford Auditorium. But as a recorded document, Mark Turner Meets Gary Foster is essentially a bit too much of an intermittently good thing.—Eric Snider Featured photo courtesy of Capri Records.