Frank Foster Songbook
Trumpeter Kenyatta Beasley leads an explosive session with his septet, through the compositions of renowned saxophonist, the late Frank Foster, Beasley’s mentor. These burning cuts, stretched over twos discs, were recorded during a two night stand at Brooklyn’s Jazz 966 in 2013. There are only 11 compositions with most over ten minutes and “Katherine the Great” clocking in at 17. Obviously, this gives plenty of room for the soloists to stretch out and do they ever! Beasley is joined on the front line by trombonist Vincent Gardner, alto saxophonist Mark Gross and tenor/soprano saxophonist Keith Loftis. The rhythm section has Alvester Garnett on drums, Dezron Douglas on bass and Anthony Wonsey on piano. Formidable guests include master trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, guitarist Mark Whitfield, vocalist Carla Cook and tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt.
Frank Foster, the famous composer, arranger and tenor saxophonist, is best known for his two celebrated stints with the Count Basie Orchestra. The first as a sideman and star-soloist (1953- 64), the second as a leader and important revitalizer of the Basie Band after the death of the Count (1986-95). The many compositions that Foster wrote during his 40-year career have long become part of the jazz lore. The genesis for this project was when Beasley, together with students from Ohio State University, wrote a book to add Foster’s music to the lexicon of written music that is used in jazz education. After making numerous trips to Foster’s home towards the end of his life, Beasley decided to shift his focus for the time being to include this project. Beasley arranged Foster’s melodies for the ensemble, weaving in his own ideas with Foster’s.
The audience at Jazz 966 was lit, undoubtedly providing a contagious energy for the musicians.Beasley says: “The dance floor often fills up immediately, so I wanted tunes that had some bounce.. We wanted to be up stage and have as good a time as the audience was.”
The blues infused opener “Hip Shakin’” sets the tone for the album, tight ensemble arrangements surrounding impassioned solos. Acclaimed guitarist Mark Whitfield takes the honors here with his burning solo. Next, singer Carla Cook gives an impressive vocal representation of Foster’s gem “Simone”. Keith Loftis blows with abandon in the mid-section.
The band blazes through the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of “Chiquito Loco,”and through the Brazilian rhythms of “Cidade Alto.” Trombonist Gardner shines on “Cidade Alto.” Master trumpet player Wynton Marsalis joins the ensemble in the lengthy “Katherine the Great” on Disc 2. He easily blows over the melody while adhering to tradition a d not overstepping his bounds.
Beasley ends the set with what he notes as the personal favorite of the composer, called “Cecilia is Love”. This masterpiece, performed by Foster’s proteges Loftis and Beasley, was written for the wife and manager of the deceased saxophonist. Loftis takes a tender soprano solo, and the rhythm section is as tight as can be, closing appropriately with a major flourish.
Beasley and company did Foster more than proud. At times, they threaten to damn blow the roof off the club. This one sizzles almost completely throughout, unlike many albums of this type that pace with burners and ballads. As Beasley said, the band was intent on having as good a time as the revved up audience.
- Jim Hynes