By Don Heckman
It’s always a good night at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. when the club’s Music Director, bassist Pat Senatore, books some of L.A.’s finest players for a laid-back, quasi-jam session performance. On Friday night, it was a quartet led by alto saxophonist/flutist Gary Foster, with pianist Tom Ranier, drummer Ramon Banda and Senatore. In two sets of far-ranging tunes, they affirmed – as happens so often at Vibrato – the skill and imagination that courses through the Southland’s impressive community of resident jazz artists.
Foster will be the first to acknowledge that his playing contains traces of sound and substance influenced by his close friend and occasional musical companion, Lee Konitz. But what he does with those qualities is completely his own – a style rich with melody, even in briskly swinging up-tempos, enhanced by articulate, always intriguing rhythmic phrasing.
Ranier’s style, equally expressive, underscored by his classical roots – was the perfect creative counter for Foster, made even more empathic by the fact that Ranier is also a saxophonist and clarinetist in his own right.
The program of material, seemingly selected on the fly, ranged from familiar Songbook standards to a few jazz classics (many of which were equally indebted to chord changes from standards). The Johnny Mercer/Jimmy Van Heusen classic “I Thought About You” was the opener, a perfect vehicle for Foster to demonstrate his warm tone and lyrical phrasing. Other, similarly memorable ballads followed: Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now”; Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “It Could Happen To You”; and a lovely bossa nova from Clare Fischer, featuring Foster’s soaring flute lines.
Faster lines were delivered with crisp, enthusiastic drive, underscored by Senatore’s solid, in-the-pocket bass lines and Banda’s percussive enthusiasm. Among the most memorable: Ranier and Foster motoring in unison through a fast-fingered Konitz-Marsh line based on the chord changes of “Out Of Nowhere”; a Tadd Dameron bebop classic – “Hot House” – based on the changes of “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
A well balanced program, in other words, performed by a quartet of players thoroughly capable of bringing it to full musical life. And fully characteristic of the sort of first rate jazz that can be found on almost any given night at Vibrato. Now, if we could just persuade the crowd at the bar to pay as much attention to the music as they do to each other…