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Tony Williams and Al Foster: Give The Drummers Some

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Are drummers the most colorful members of the jazz community? Certainly as the keepers of the beat, the bands in which they play rotate around them, whether they are at center stage or off to the side in performance or behind baffles right alongside them in the studio. And the assertive and authoritative likes of such dashing contemporary figures as Brian Blade, Mike Clark and Allison Miller only offer further testament to that hallowed notion. As does the late Tony Williams' previously-unreleased 1980 trio session of vintage fusion coming to light around the same time as a more traditional acoustic jazz helmed by Al Foster. A study in contrasts though this may be, one from a linchpin of Miles' "second great quintet" of Miles Davis and founder of the vanguard fusion group Lifetime, the other from a redoubtable alum of both Sonny Rollins and the aforementioned icon of a trumpeter/bandleader, both records share a vigor and camaraderie that usually earmarks the leadership of the most memorable men and women sitting at their respective kits throughout the history of jazz.

Tony Williams
Play Or Die
MIG Music GMBH
2022

Based on the insight of Friedrich-Wilhelm Meyer's liner note essay regarding this three-man lineup's natural chemistry, there's no mistaking the relaxed air permeating the vintage jazz-rock fusion of Play Or Die. Marking a step in the transition process from The New Tony Wwilliams Lifetime of the mid-Seventies on the way to the late, great percussionist's extended return to acoustic roots with albums of the Nineties like The Story of Neptune (Blue Note, 1992), the bare-bones trio approach on this 'lost' album is, however, somewhat deceptive: Tom Grant's keyboards and synthesizer, supplemented by Patrick O'Hearn's bass work, impart a distinctly layered, futuristic air to tracks like "The Big Man." And certainly cuts such as "Beach Ball Tango" find the bandleader hammering away with no little relish (albeit with his customary lithe attack). Johannes Scheibenreif's remastering of what was originally a limited edition release on vinyl—here for the first time on CD including corrected cover graphics—now reveals a punch and depth of detail befitting the synchronous musicianship: as such, it begs to be played at high volume. Interrupted by the leader's ill-advised vocal on "There Comes A Time," the five cuts and thirty-nine or so minutes otherwise make for a worthwhile and perhaps even an essential entry into the varied discography of one of the modern jazz milieu's most esteemed percussionists.

Al Foster
Reflections
Smoke Session Records
2022

It's a measure of the deserved respect the jazz community accords Al Foster that his fifth album under his name convenes such high-profile musicians. Yet their presence only heightens the positive ambiguity of this record's title: this isn't just a collection of reminiscences, but a multi-faceted mirroring of all the talents directly and indirectly involved. Within the eleven tracks, those written by the iconic likes of McCoy Tyner and Joe Henderson reside comfortably alongside originals from participants: tenor saxophonist Chris Potter ("Open Plans"), trumpeter Nicholas Payton ("Six") and pianist Kevin Hays ("Beat") thus contribute mightily, not just to the program, but to its ever-so-sensitive rendering. As, of course, does the bandleader himself, contributing tunes of his own to juxtapose with a pair from the 'Saxophone Colossus' and 'The Man with the Horn,' that in addition to playing his kit on his other self-penned number, "Anastasia," so that he assertively furthers the interaction between himself and his collaborators (not the least of whom is his partner in the rhythm section Vincente Archer). Recorded, mixed and mastered by Chris Allen from a single day's session at Sear Sound Studio C, NYC, this an album of no small wonder(s), the full extent of which backstory essayist Ted Panken does justice in his writing inside the triple-fold digi-pak. It's hardly surprising the front cover photo depicts Al Foster beaming in absolute delight.

Tracks and Personnel

Play Or Die

Tracks: The Big Man; Beach Ball Tango; Jam Tune; Para Oriente; There Comes A Time.

Personnel: Tom Grant: keyboards, synthesizer; Patrick O'Hearn: bass; Tony Williams: vocals, drums, percussion.

Reflections

Tracks: T.S. Monk: Pent-Up House; Open Plans; Blues on the Corner; Anastasia; Six; Punjab; Beat; Alone and I; Helf Nelson; Monk's Bossa.

Personnel: Kevin Hays: piano, keyboards; Nicholas Payton: trumpet; Chris Potter: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Vincente Archer: bass; Al Foster: drums.

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