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Friday, March 23, 2007

Frank Foster: Well Water

Like the renowned orchestra led by his fellow Basie alumnus Thad Jones, Frank Foster's Loud Minority Big Band was focused on forging a more advanced big band identity. Foster is intimate with Thad's MO, having spent a few years in his band in the '70s, and this experience undoubtedly informed his own ensemble from that same decade -- harmonically complex arrangements combined with passionate playing. And while the results might have sounded rough in parts, the compositions always had their virtues –- shapely melodies, high-energy orchestrations and a wall of sound. With the release of Well Water, we can now hear some tapes that were previously assumed to be lost, providing a more complete portrait of Foster's vision. The recording sounds remarkably well-preserved, too. But unlike the funky, fusion-tinged maiden voyage of the Minority from 1974, Well Water is more straight-ahead.

Foster's arrangement of "Joy Spring" takes Clifford Brown's already-complex piece to new levels of intricacy with a muscular reading from the band. Kiane Zawadi (who appeared on some notable '50s and '60s dates as Bernard McKinney) does admirably on trombone, and trumpeter Charles Sullivan gives a bright nod to the song's author, but tenorist Bill Saxton's agile, hard-blowing solo is the high point here. The title track is an adaptation of a Russian folk song, rendered as a driving 3/4 modal composition. Foster's tenor is intense and buoyant, leaping out from a well-blended reed section orchestration.

Second only to "Shiny Stockings," "Simone" is probably Foster's best-known composition, and while it lends itself to a delicate interpretation, its creator isn't afraid to be bold. Saxton solos like he owns the tune. Here and throughout the session, pianist Mickey Tucker is luminescent, with flashes of Tatum and McCoy. It's Elvin Jones's wide-swinging cymbal work, though, that makes this a heavy and powerful chart, and his own solo is as much about texture and musicality as strength. His own composition, "Three Card Molly," appears as a bonus track -– a true workout for a quintet with Tucker, bassist Earl May, percussionist Babafumi Akunyun and a pure-toned, wicked, chromatic soprano solo from Foster.

The other reedmen have most of the sax solos here, but Foster's voice is apparent enough in the music. His colleagues do him proud, of course, and often show a hint of his influence: virile, searching and touched by Trane. Just as Foster himself evolved beyond the mannered, swing-based saxophone stylings of Basie's band, his efforts with the Loud Minority furthered the possibilities for the large ensemble, and Well Water is a fitting example.

Read Foster's interview with Mel Martin. He discusses, among many other things, the formation of the Minority.

Well Water (Piadrum)
- Frank Foster (ss, ts, arr)
- Sinclair Acey, Charles Sullivan, Don McIntosh, Joe Gardner, Cecil Bridgewater (tp)
- Bill Lowe, Janice Robinson, Charles Stephens, Kiane Zawadi (tb)
- C.I. Williams, Leroy Barton (fl, as)
- Bill Cody, Bill Saxton, Doug Harris (fl, ts)
- Kenny Rogers (bars)
- Mickey Tucker (p)
- Earl May (b)
- Elvin Jones (d)
- Babafumi Akunyun (perc)


  • At 4/01/2007 5:39 AM, Blogger Richard said…

    It's a pity that Frank Foster rates so little mention in discussion of post-war saxophonists. Have you heard the version of "The Loud Minority" he recorded with the Donald Byrd band in 1970? (released on Blue Note "Kofi" in 1995) It's something else.

  • At 4/04/2007 6:03 AM, Blogger Kellen said…

    Thanks for the tip. I sampled a bit of that album a while ago, but I inexplicably overlooked that tune.

    Thanks for checking in, as always, Richard!


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