Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Champian Fulton Reinvents Charlie Parker with Her Usual Purist Style and Sense of Humor

Champian Fulton made a mark as a purist, Dinah Washington-influenced singer while still in her teens, but in the years since she’s developed piano chops to match that erudite sensibility. There is no other artist in jazz with as much mastery of both the mic and the 88s. Until the lockdown, she maintained a punishing tour schedule, continuing to release albums at a steady clip. Her latest one, Birdsong – a celebration of the Charlie Parker centennial, streaming at Bandcamp – is a logical step in the career of an artist who approaches jazz as entertainment and never stops pushing herself. It’s a mix of vocal and instrumental numbers, more of them associated with Bird than actual Parker compositions.

As usual, Fulton takes a painterly approach, parsing the lyrics line by line. The take of Just Friends, shifting subtly from a jazz waltz to balmy swing, is a good choice of opener. As silky and expressive as her vocals are, her jaunty Errol Garner-ish piano solo is even more adrenalizing.

Fulton chooses her accomplices well. With his smoky tone and uncluttered melodicism, tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton is a perfect fit, and Fulton’s longtime rhythm section of bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka (no relation) provide an aptly spring-loaded, low-key groove.

Her trumpeter dad Stephen Fulton harmonizes and then offers a mix of carbonation and restraint in a tightly bouncing version of Yardbird Suite. Hamilton matches the frontwoman’s balmy vocals in This Is Always; her droll ornamentation at the keys is irresistibly funny.

Star Eyes is a vehicle for Fulton’s command of a familiar Washington trope, going from mist to bite in barely the space of a syllable. The brightly swinging piano trio version of Quasimodo captures the bandleader in a particularly determined mood and gives the rhythm section a chance to stretch out. Then the three pick up the pace with a breakneck instrumental take of All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm.

Hamilton’s spacious solo makes an apt centerpiece in a midtempo swing version of Dearly Beloved. The decision to approach Out of Nowhere as loose-limbed tropicalia pays off, especially for the rhythm section. The band revert to strolling swing with If I Should Lose You, Hamilton’s most acerbic solo here handing off to the elder Fulton’s Satchmo-influenced lines and a coyly triumphant solo from the younger one.

The best version of My Old Flame may be by Spike Jones: Fulton creates nebulous wee-hours atmosphere with it. The whole band close the record with a comfortably conversational Bluebird. If you like the originals, there’s plenty more entertainment here.

November 6, 2020 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Champian Fulton Fuels the Fun with an All-Star Cast This July 3 at Lincoln Center

Beyond sheer entertainment, the point of the Sisterhood of Swing Seven show at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night Swing series this July 3 is to create a septet supergroup of some of the foremost women instrumentalists in jazz. That they chose Champian Fulton as the pianist is hardly a surprise. But they could just as easily have chosen her to be the singer. The rest of the group also has fearsome chops: Catherine Russell on vocals; Camille Thurman (another rarity, a first-rate singer and instrumentalist) on tenor sax; Emily Asher on trombone; Endea Owens on bass; Shirazette Tinnin on drums, and Molly Ryan on guitar. Showtime is 7:30 PM (you can show up for a dance lesson earlier if you want), it’s free to get into the park, $18 in advance for the dancefloor.

Fulton considers her latest album, the lavish two-disc set The Stylings of Champian Fulton (streaming at Spotify) to be the high point of her recording career so far. With her longtime rhythm section, Hide Tanaka on bass and Fukushi Tainaka  (no relation) on drums, she brings her signature, subtle, stinging wit and sense of surprise to enliven a collection of familiar standards. Vocally, Dinah Washington (an artist she paid tribute to with her After Dark album) is the obvious influence), but Fulton’s range reaches both the calmer and sharper edges of where Washington would typically go.

There’s mist in Fulton’s voice on the opening track, Day by Day – but it’s the mist off a kettle on the stove. As with many of the songs, Fulton’s dad Stephen Fulton adds an amiable flugelhorn solo; his daughter’s rugged chordal intensity afterward is a typically counterintuitive move for her.

She takes the first verse of Lollipops and Roses solo, dead-serious, then the bass and drums kick in and the trio romp through to the end. The full quartet reinvent I Only Have Eyes For You as a deviously chuffing march and then swing it hard. The instrumental Blues Etude has an even more careening intensity; after that, they rein it in just a bit with I Didn’t Know What Time It Was, lit up by Fulton’s bluesy charm on the keys and contrastingly incisive vocals.

The elder Fulton’s ebullientce filters through the album’s second instrumental, Rodeo; the younger one plays with as much devious bluesiness as anywhere else on the record. She takes a similar purist approach to Darn that Dream, but at half the speed, with a more coyly exploratory touch.

Borrowing a more upbeat love song from the past, Too Marvelous For Words perfectly crystallizes what she’s all about: matter-of-fact, unselfconsciously adrenalizing crescendos matched to vocal nuance. The first cd winds up with a brief, balmy bass-and-vocal take of Body and Soul, .

The second record kicks off with a Isn’t It a Lovely Day, the bandleader catching the subtle irony in the lyrics but then contrasting with a cheerily crescendoing piano solo. The band scrambles frantically behind her casually brassy vocal in a lickety-split version You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To – it’s doubtful if anybody’s ever done it so fast, or with a Chopin riff tossed into the piano solo. In context, the feral, jungly drum solo is the icing on the cake.

The instrumental Martha’s Prize has a brisk, incisive, latin-tinged swing. She does the country-flavored Lonesome and Sorry as a jazz waltz, while All the Things You Are swings through a leapfrogging drum break to a fiery latin vamp out. On one hand, all this is as retro as it gets. On the other, Fulton’s knowing vocals and improvisational flair are as cutting-edge as anything happening in the avant garde. To paraphrase JD Allen,, sometimes the most radical thing you can do these days is swing.

June 29, 2019 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment