Shiny Stockings

Frank Foster

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Shiny Stockings Review

by Michael G. Nastos

Frank Foster's Loud Minority big band was formed in the early 1970s, and made a raucous, politically oriented funk-fusion type recording for the Mainstream label. As the Black Nationalist movement was pronounced in those days, the Loud Minority fit in quite well, and spoke to a generation of listeners who were prone to accept their protestations against racism, oppression, and the immoral Vietnam War. This version, recorded a handful of years later, was a more refined and hard swinging musical effort, leaving the vocal outspokenness to the side, concentrating on the highly composed and arranged instrumental charts of Foster's making. Two recording sessions done a full year apart with slightly different 21 piece lineups feature Foster's still fearless approach to modern and progressive big-band music, accented by a multi-layered precept that in some ways reflects his time with Count Basie, but speaks more to the advanced Tadd Dameron/Oliver Nelson/Thad Jones-Mel Lewis sound distinctly rooted in Duke Ellington. Foster is ever mindful of how the individual voices of his bandmembers shape the music, but solos are reserved only for the leader's tenor or soprano saxophone, as well as trumpeter Sinclair Acey and trombonist Kiane Zawadi. The famous "Shiny Stockings" is treated here in a joyous holiday flair with all the trimmings, whether in bright flute flashes, arpeggiated piano riffs from Mickey Tucker, or rich brass burnishings, and that's all in just the melody. A paraphrase of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" is added by Foster's tenor. The New York City strut 6/8 time signature of "Manhattan Fever," initially done when Foster was leading small group sessions for the Blue Note label, is done here and expanded to big-band fare, with brilliant call and response variations that bear repeat listenings. "Thruway Traffic" is also distinctly urban and hip, evocative of the multi-dimensional-sounding rat race life in the big city. The most startling piece, "Dayspring," is only loosely based on Clifford Brown's "Joyspring." It churns with dazzling layers of counterpointed modality, flavored by the Afro-Cuban congas of Roger Blank, and has Tucker driving the juggernaut express with three simple piano chords as the horns have a field day on this most sumptuous chart -- one of Foster's all-time best. The subtle side is represented by his arrangement of the traditional piece "Hills of the North Rejoice," theme music for a rural vista, with tambourine, Foster's slightly sharp tenor, and Tucker's repeat, rolling hills chorus. Never forgetting the blues via his roots in his native Cincinnati or his home for an important time in Detroit, "Four, Five, Six" has that Basie or Oliver Nelson abstract truth feel while mixing in the simple melodic style of "Bags Groove," while "Tomorrow's Blues Today" is a steady and cool late-night clubbin' cruiser. There's absolutely no filler, no wasted motion or excess, and nothing but solid musicianship on this guaranteed gold recording that ranks with the very best that modern big-band jazz has to offer. It belongs in every collection -- period!

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