Right Track 2021
Informal gathering of kindred spirits who let their past influences inform the future.
Mo Foster could be called a quiet one-man institution of British rock had his bass rumble not been as palpable and supple at the same time – and if assigning the veteran to rock wasn’t limiting his stylistic reach and virtuoso delivery – yet then, the “one-man” tag can be misleading too, because the legendary musician has always preferred to pass both stage and studio time in the company of fellow players. There’s a need for telepathy which Mo thrives on in various line-ups, from trios such as RMS to orchestral endeavors like the original “Evita” recording, and from pop walks in sessions with Olivia Newton-John to heavy rifferama with MSG. Still, it’s jazz that Foster loves the most, and “In Concert” might be the best display of his fantastic capabilities as performer and band leader – thanks not only to the presence of friends, including lifelong partner in crime Ray Russell, but also to the diversity of material on offer.
Both familiar and obscure pieces give his ensemble the instrumental liberty to spread wings and take off, although nothing embraces this flight of fantasy more eagerly than opener “Freedom Jazz Dance” or penultimate number “Little Wing” – the former an exotic romp, where Chris Biscoe’s reeds and Jim Watson’s ivories elegantly, if merrily, bounce on Mo’s tight four-string trampoline before Ray’s guitar licks spice up the sonic brew and let bass to the fore; the latter a loose and pellucid, ethereal and breathtaking wail of a romantic soul. But then, nothing seems more robustly elegant than “The Pan Piper” from the repertoire of Gil Evans whom Foster and Russell worked with and whose joviality they electrically embellish by appending his brisk, lightweight “Gone” to a brief, albeit magnificent, fragment of Gershwin’s “Gone Gone Gone” after weaving bossa nova moves and country fiddle into “Some Echoes” – one of two Mike Gibbs’ cuts here – to turn jive into hoedown.
The sextet exert the same fluid dynamics all over “Three Views Of A Secret” and “Footprints” to enhance the respective Pastorius and Shorter’s ballads with English moodiness, as the piano-rippled ebb, flow and swell propel the tunes onward, while Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly Of The Blues” sees the cool array of solos passed around, and the New Orleans evergreen “On Your Way Down” – smeared with sax and organ and bulging with full-blooded groove – comes across as the hottest jam of the set. Of course, the folk-infused epics “And On the Third Day” and “Django” provide a vaster space for improvs and unhurried trad-shifting exercises in elegy and in having fun, but Mo’s own “Oh No” and “Who’s There?” – which he co-penned with former colleague Linda Hoyle and didn’t evolve into a fresh AFFINITY song – are immaculately composed and impeccably brought alive examples of his boundless desire to explore rhythmic and melodic challenges and tie them to arresting arrangements, whereas Foster and Russell’s transparent, twangy “So Far Away” is an apex of their contemplative rapport.
The variety of moods and nuances in this concert is simply astonishing – it’s surely one the best jazz albums of 2021 and a vital addition to Mo Foster’s five-decade-long recording history.