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Review: Al Foster shines at Dubai jazz fest

One of the potential pitfalls of going to see a legend of any musical genre is the danger that they’ll just plod through the set, grab their cheque and go home.

It won’t be bad, but it won’t be legendary either. Just workmanlike and vaguely disappointing.

Drummer Al Foster quickly dispelled any concerns on Thursday at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival. At the age of 71, he’s lost none of his sharp timing and soft hands, and in regular players Adam Birnbaum (piano) and Doug Weiss (double bass) had two highly capable mates in the engine room.

This really came into its own when Wallace Roney (trumpet) and Jimmy Greene (saxophone) left the stage for the penultimate track. With the horns removed, the sound grew deeper and more layered, although occasionally it was difficult to make out over the fusillade of funk coming from the Earth, Wind and Fire Experience on the main Emirates stage.

Roney, fast approaching legend status already if he’s not already there, and Greene did give the sound plenty of muscle, especially on the Miles Davis-penned Jean Pierre, which is just a lot stronger and brighter with two horns instead of one.

But it’s not just about the music. Foster, the man who has played with everyone from Davis to Sonny Rollins to Herbie Hancock, among countless others, represents the modern history of the genre. You feel that every second he’s on stage. That’s also true of Roney, who has the distinction of being the only trumpeter Davis ever personally tutored.

A criticism frequently levelled at the jazz festival is that it often has little in the way of ‘proper’ jazz. With this year’s inclusion of the ‘Legends’, the organisers may have found a recipe to please everyone.

And with the innovative and influential Hancock coming to Abu Dhabi next month, now is a good time to be a jazz fan in the UAE.

Over on the main stage, late stand-ins the Earth, Wind and Fire Experience featuring the Al McKay All-stars got the crowd bouncing and boogying. You couldn’t help thinking that they were a far more popular addition to the opening night than the original Stone Temple Pilots would have been.