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Frank Foster and the Loud Minority Big Band: Well Water

Jack Bowers By

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Thirty years ago, saxophonist Frank Foster and drummer Elvin Jones escorted eighteen other musicians (whom Foster dubbed the Loud Minority Big Band) into a recording studio in New York City to tape an album, Well Water. The hope was that a label would be found and the music released for public consumption.

That never happened, and as the months and years went by, it was widely assumed that the master tapes had been irretrievably lost. But Foster's wife, Cecilia, remained unconvinced, and she began making inquiries. Lo and behold, not only weren't the tapes lost, they'd been stored away in perfect condition for three decades in the home of the session's recording engineer, Don Hunerberg.

Hunerberg delivered the tapes to the Fosters' emissary, Ron Aprea, paving the way for a happy, though delayed, ending. Well Water—better late than never, and expertly remastered by Jessica Shih and Dae Bennett—found a home at last on Piadrum Records, and everyone now has a chance to hear and appreciate Foster's Loud Minority Big Band in one of its earliest and finest hours. The first half-dozen tracks are performed by the ensemble, the last—Jones' muscular "Three Card Molly —by a quintet comprised of Jones, Foster (on soprano sax), pianist Mickey Tucker, bassist Earl May and percussionist Babafumi Akunyun.

If you crave specifics about the music, you need only read Foster's well-written and informative liner notes, wherein every selection is neatly summarized. Besides "Molly," they encompass four of his original compositions (if one includes "Well Water, a jazz waltz adapted from a Russian folk song), David Jones' "There'll Be a Time and Clifford Brown's irrepressible jazz classic, "Joy Spring.

Foster, who played tenor in the Count Basie Orchestra from 1953-64 and led the band from 1986-95, has always been about swinging, and Well Water certainly marks no departure from that precept. "The mood, as Foster recalls, "was really up, an appraisal that is affirmed from the outset. As a bonus, there are splendid solos by a number of sidemen whose names are relatively obscure today—trumpeter Charles Sullivan, alto C.I. Williams, tenor Bill Saxton, baritone Kenny Rogers, trombonist Kiane Zawadi and pianist Tucker. Williams and Rogers are among the members of the band who have since passed on—the others are Jones and Akunyun—while Tucker moved to Australia more than twenty years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Williams' soulful, creamy-smooth alto (shades of Marshall Royal) is showcased on "There'll Be a Time, the session's lone ballad.

More than a sentimental trip down memory lane, as Foster remembers it, Well Water is a splendid studio date by a first-class big band, and it's good to have it available on CD after all these years.

Track Listing: Joy Spring; Cecilia Is Love; Simone; There

Personnel: Frank Foster: leader, tenor, soprano sax; Sinclair Acey, Charles Sullivan, Don McIntosh, Joe Gardner, Cecil Bridgewater: trumpet; Leroy Barton, C.I. Williams: alto sax, flute; Bill Cody: tenor sax, flute, piccolo; Bill Saxton: tenor, soprano sax, flute; Doug Harris: tenor sax, flute; Kenny Rogers: baritone sax; Bill Lowe, Janice Robinson, Charles Stephens, Kiane Zawadi: trombone; Mickey Tucker: piano; Earl May: acoustic, electric bass; Elvin Jones: drums; Babafumi Akunyun: percussion.

Title: Well Water | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Piadrum Records

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