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Oddly never quite as celebrated as his inspirations and peers (Tony Williams, Max Roach, Joe Chambers, Jack DeJohnette), drummer Al Foster nonetheless became a key rhythmic collaborator for a dream list of bandleaders: Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk, Joe Henderson and, for more years than just about any other musician, Miles Davis. Backed by an all-star team of saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, pianist Kevin Hays and bassist Vicente Archer, Foster pays tribute to his mentors, friends and employers with Reflections, his sixth album as a leader. That means hard- and post-bopping deep cuts from Rollins (“Pent-up House”), Henderson (“Punjab”), Hancock (“Alone and I”) and Tyner (“Blues on the Corner”), plus the swinging “Half Nelson,” from Davis’ early LP Workin’ – an especially interesting choice, considering that Foster didn’t work with Davis until he was deep into fusion territory. Foster also includes several originals, including Payton’s Davis-baiting “Six,” Hays’ moody bopper “Beat” and Potter’s lush ballad “Open Plans.” Foster opens and closes the record with two tunes of his own, and “T.S. Monk” and “Monk’s Bossa” acknowledge the deep debt Foster owes the maverick composer for his sense of how to write a melody. Foster has had an amazingly diverse career, but this focus on acoustic jazz and its giants shows just how much he loves the sound that inspired him to play music in the first place.
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