Why Gary Foster remains a virtual unknown is one of the great mysteries of the jazz world. After a long and distinguished career as an extraordinary alto saxophonist--a superb player graced with unfailing tone, expert technique and impeccable taste--he combines both cool and hot schools of playing into an emotive style all his own.

At Donte’s Wednesday night, Foster--accompanied by pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist Putter Smith and drummer Peter Donald--wended his way through a series of tunes perfectly suited to his mannered jazz.

An obscure Cole Porter composition, “Everything I Love,” opened the evening’s first set in a relaxed mode. Foster embellished the melody only slightly at first, gradually sculpting the tune with a series of jagged edges and smooth underpinnings. Similarly, he approached Broadbent’s beautiful ballad, “Don’t Ask Why” (written for the late Irene Kral), making the composition an emotional tour de force worthy of the late singer.

Two boppish tunes, Lennie Tristano’s “Ablution” and Broadbent’s “Continuity,” showcased his alto in a more fiery mode. Gently jabbing and stabbing at the melodies, Foster made each tune an exercise in controlled freneticism.

Foster’s trio succeeded on several levels. Broadbent’s sensitive accompaniment was matched only by his gracious soloing, while bassist Smith both underscored and soloed in near-perfect order, especially on “ ‘Teef,” a blues written for Yusef Lateef by Sonny Red. Drummer Donald kept things busily moving, though his solos came too frequently during the evening’s set.