NEWPORT BEACH — Ah, the pleasures of jazz on a warm summer evening.
Saxophonist Gary Foster's program at the Hyatt Newporter Friday night had all the right elements--a first-rate jazz quintet, an attractive selection of tunes, and a gorgeous hillside location, cooled by an ocean breeze and highlighted by the setting sun.
Foster made the most of the opportunity. Tall, sturdy-looking, beginning to gray around the edges, the 56-year-old veteran played with precise articulateness. Clearly influenced by the loping, off-center rhythms of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh (with whom he worked for many years), Foster's solos also occasionally resonated with a sly delicacy reminiscent of Johnny Hodges.
The repertoire was unusually diverse, ranging from familiar be-bop items such as "Relaxin' at Camarillo" to Lennie Tristano's set of variations on "All the Things You Are" entitled "Ablution," and Clare Fischer's lovely bossa nova, "Pensativa."
Foster played well at all tempos, and was especially effective on a pop tune he professed not to know very well--Sammy Cahn's "Wonder Why." The saxophonist's smooth and easy reading contrasted melodic little curlicues of ornamentation over a surging undercurrent of implied rhythms.
One of his most attractive qualities on this program was his expression of the romantic aspects inherent in jazz ballads--a willingness to go for beauty without sacrificing spontaneity.
He was well-aided by Tom Ranier on piano and Larry Koonse on guitar. Ranier's single-note lines were revelations--horn-like tours across the upper limits of the chords. Like Ranier, Koonse stressed long, extended melodies, taking seemingly innocent phrases and suddenly twisting and turning them in every imaginable direction.
The rhythm team of Putter Smith and Roy McCurdy was solid and dependable, if not particularly outgoing. But Smith's bowed solos never quite came into focus as well as his pizzicato playing.
That minor carp aside, the Foster quintet's performance was the ideal way to spend an evening, and the ideal showcase for an artist who rarely receives the credit he deserves.
In a perfect world, peace would prevail, starvation would not exist, and Gary Foster would be more popular than Kenny G.