Lucid Culture


Jazz Piano Icon Satoko Fujii Launches Her Ambitious 2018 Album-a-Month Project

What Wadada Leo Smith is to the trumpet, Satoko Fujii is to the piano: one of the most riveting improvisers to ever play the instrument. Like Smith, her themes can be epic and ambitious to the nth degree, yet her playing is meticulous and nuanced. Where a lot of musicians think in short phrases, Fujii thinks in paragraphs. Her most recent big band album, the harrowingly relevant Fukushima suite, topped the Best Albums of 2017 list here. Her latest project is to release an album a month this year to celebrate her sixtieth birthday. In person, beyond the sheer depth of her music, her indomitable joie de vivre, sense of wonder and daunting chops transcend preconceptions about age. The first release in the series is simply titled Satoko Fujii Solo.

Full disclosure: many of these albums seem to already be in the can. This first one was recorded live in concert in the fall of last year in Yawatahama, Japan. From the first magnificent, moody neoromantic chords of her eight-minute opening number, Inori, the way she distills them down to a simple, catchy three-chord riff and variations is a clinic in tunesmithing. Fujii is also a very site-specific pianist: she feels the room, figures out how long the reverb lasts,  then makes it an integral part of the music. She does that here with stabbing chords that build to a series of leaps and bounds. then a starlit outro. Chopin probably worked up a lot of his material this way.

This is a very otherworldly record, bristling with uneasy, insistently modal tangents. Don’t be fooled by the high drone that opens the second number, Geradeaus. That’s not a defect – that’s Fujii bowing and rustling around inside the piano. She finds a low pedal note, expands around it in an emphatic Keith Jarrett way, goes back inside and adjusts the timbre ever so slightly, then lightens a bit and dances around with uneasy chromatics. The few carefree flourishes turn out to be a red herring as this mood piece turns more savage and enigmatic.

As the twelve-minute Ninepin gets underway, Fujii juxtaposes muted gamelanesque taps on the strings…and what sounds like an electric sander on them. Slowly and methodically, she develops what could be a misterioso Indian wee-hours raga…but cuts off the pedal on each phrase suddenly – wherever this is going, we’re not there yet.  Some of it could be Satie, or Lennie Tristano, severity balanced against tongue-in-cheek humor.

The even longer Spring Storm is all about foreshadowing: stygian low torrents rise and then subside, give way to hints of a clearing, but that big black cloud is going to hang awhile! It’s Debussy’s garden in the hailstorm, but feeling the force of the elements row by row instead of the cloudburst simply shredding everything in its path.

In Gen Himmel, Fujii lets her Mompou-esque belltones linger, flits around under the lid, and cuts off phrases sharply, Intimations of gospel enter the picture, only to be elbowed out by funereal motives and restless close harmonies. The wryly titled Up Down Left Right begins as a funny study in how gremlins can pop up all over the keyboard, then morphs into twisted, bellicose quasi-boogie-woogie  Fujii closes the show by reinventing  Jimmy Giuffre’s Moonlight as a distantly menacing, saturnine elegy. “The stars settle slowly, in loneliness they lie,” Phil Ochs sang. Boy, do they ever.

Where does this rank in the immense Fujii catalog (over eighty albums)? Probably in the top ten, alongside her magical, mordant duo album with fellow pianist Myra Melford, for example.

Now where can you find this magical album…other than a Soundcloud page? Stay tuned!


March 2, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Majestic, Cinematic Sweep and a Midtown Album Release Show From Bassist Mark Wade

Mark Wade’s bass steps with an almost cruel, emphatic pulse beneath Tim Harrison’s stubborn piano loop as the title track of Wade’s new album Moving Day – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway.  Is this “Here we go again, pushed even further to the most remote fringes of this city by the real estate bubble, drug money laundering and the never-ending blitzkrieg of gentrification?”


As the song builds over drummer Scott Neumann’s increasingly bustling yet subtle implied-triplet groove, it takes on a cinematic sweep not unlike Amina Figarova’s musical travelogues. The bandleader’s growling, tireless propulsion eventually hits a dancing pulse as Harrison lightens and loosens: maybe this is turning out to be more escape than exile. You can decide for yourself when the trio play the album release show on March 3 at 8 PM at Club Bonafide; cover is $15.

The bass on this album is especially well recorded, considering that Wade typically plays with a sinewy, almost gravelly tone that’s well-suited to his restlessly shapeshifting compositions. The second track is Wide Open. With its hard-charging drive fueled by Harrison’s left hand, often in tandem with the bass, it wouldn’t be out of place on a recent Orrin Evans album.

The Bells opens as a somberly majestic waltz ringing with uneasy modal lines and Debussy-esqe close harmonies, drawing its inspiration from Wade hearing churchbells in the south of France, out of tune and sync with each other. Like the album’s opening track, it brightens considerably, punctuated by Wade’s minimalist solo.

Another Night in Tunisia is the familiar favorite chugging along over a series of rhythmic shifts: having just heard Dave Douglas completely radicalize the song, it’s impressive to hear how well this holds it own alongside it. The album’s other cover, Autumn Leaves, benefits from a terse bass solo and some deliciously enigmatic reharmonizing that Harrison lets linger as his lefthand jabs, hard: he’s a voice we ought to hear more of.

His stately chords open Something of a Romance with plenty of gravitas, followed by a mighty buildup of a wave from the rhythm section, some jauntily chugging wee-hour swing, a spacious, cantabile solo from Wade and then a return to rising tides. The similarly crescendoing, picturesque Midnight in the Cathedral imagines the crowds and music there from over the centuries: swelling multitudes and maybe a wedding as Neumann shuffles on the cymbals and Wade leaps and bounds around an old Gregorian chant theme that Rachmaninoff used more than once.

The New Orleans shout-out The Quarter offers irrepressibly cheery, catchy contrast. The album winds up with In the Fading Rays of Sunlight, a portrait of a particularly glorious end to the day that follows a clever series of glistening downward trajectories. Needless to say, compositions and a band this good would resonate with the crowds at Smalls and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

February 26, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yet Another Brilliant, Mysterious, Richly Tuneful Album and a Stone Residency by Sylvie Courvoisier

Pianist Sylvie Courvoisier’s new album D’Agala, with her trio – streaming at Spotify – is a characteristically dark, rich, gorgeously melodic tour de force. Courvoisier has been one of the most vivid tunesmiths in jazz for a long time. Here she takes that translucent sensibility to new levels, along with plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle humor, jaunty interplay and extended technique. She’s played as many Stone residencies as any other member of John Zorn’s circle, and she’s got one coming up starting tonight, Feb 6 at 8:30 PM, running through Feb 11. Cover is $20; the full list of ensembles she’s playing with is here. The Feb 8 show, a duo set with her violinist sparring partner Mark Feldman may be the most intense of all of them.

Impish upper righthand fragments peek over a muted, sotto-vocce ba-bump groove amid pregnant pauses as the album’s opening track, Imprint Double – written for her pianist dad Antoine Courvoisier- gets underway. From there she follows a steady, ominously lingering stroll, Janacek’s tortuous overgrown path dotted with Satie-esque belltones. Then she brings back the opening groove, drummer Kenny Wollesen and bassist Drew Gress matching the playful suspense.

Courvoisier opens Bourgeois’s Spider – dedicated to sculptor Louise Bourgeois – with chiseling inside-the-piano figures, then pedals down a long runway, the rhythm section matching her increasingly gritty intensity all the way. More of those Satie-esque close harmonies give way to starlit peek-a-boo phrases as Wollesen and Gress hang back, steady and distantly relentless.

All of the tracks here are dedications as well. With its loopy riffs, subtly dancing variations and cat-chasing-the-yarn piano, Éclats for Ornette isn’t hard to figure out. Simone (for Simone Veil) has an aptly rapt, mystical sensibility, cached within Courvoisier’s scampering lines and brought to the forefront by Wollesen and Gress’ looming presence.

Similarly, he and Gress swing the icepick Andriessen changes of Pierino Porcospino (for Charlie), the blues hidden away in Courvoisier’s blips, bleeps and circles bringing to mind Myra Melford in a particularly animated moment. The title track – a salute to Geri Allen – pairs Courvoisier’s somber minimalism against the rhythm section’s insectile scrapes and rustles, Gress adding mutedly brooding blues. Courvoisier weighs that gravitas against lighter, more carefree sounds and opts for an elegy: Allen would not doubt appreciate this.

Circumbent (For Martin Puryear) is the album’s most overtly improvisational number, Courvoisier’s disappearing-ink chordlets and staccato accents grounded by a steady, almost trip-hop sway from bass and drums. Fly Whisk (for Courvoisier’s fellow Swiss pianist Irène Schweizer) interchanges judiciously spaced piano clusters amidst Wollesen’s misty ambience, tersely accented by Gress. The ending is too good to give away, and is vintage Courvoisier. She and Gress switch roles, with her shadowing him throughout the album’s concluding cut, South Side Rules (for John Abercrombie), bass punctuating its resonant, immutable unease as Wollesen builds a cumulo-nimbus backdrop. This record’s going to be on a whole lot of people’s best of 2018 lists.


February 6, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Picturesque, Edgy Album and a Mezzrow Release Show by the Danny Fox Trio

There are few more colorful or individualistic bands in jazz than the Danny Fox Trio. Considering that they’ve been together for about a decade, there are also few other groups with as much devious interplay as pianist Fox, bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman typically conjure up. Their latest album The Great Nostalgist – just out, and not at Spotify or the other spots yet – is a typically playful, frequently sardonic, constantly shapeshifting series of themes that reflect on childhood, adolescence and eventually the surreal daily grind of being a busy Brooklyn musician. They’re playing the album release show on Jan 22 at 8 PM at Mezzrow; cover is $20.

The opening number, Adult Joe, sets the stage: looping piano figures spiced with bass and drum flourishes spiral outward, with echoes of Monk, Philip Glass and Russian Romanticism. Theme for Gloomy Bear, dedicated to a giant pink stuffed animal, opens with a predictable but irresistible quote, then Fox builds from a suspensefully hypnotic crescendo toward a more emphatic rhythmic drive, taking his time as Goldman mists the windows with his cymbals. The bass leaps as the piano lingers; Steely Dan comes to mind for a flash or two; Fox hints at sharp-fanged boogie-woogie but never goes there.

Jewish Cowboy (the Real Josh Geller) is even more surreal, a minor-key bluegrass romp syncopatedly warped into piano jazz, with even more vivid Donald Fagen echoes. A puckishly suspenseful bass/drums vista interrupts the revelry, then they’re off again.

Fox’s talents are not confined to the piano: as a gradeschooler, he was a champion ice cream eater, memorialized in Cookie Puss Prize, a surprisingly moody, insistently looping ballad, Goldman putting the icing on the cake (sorry, couldn’t resist) as phrases wind up. Could Goldman’s droll kitchen-sink solo signal the end of a ten-year-old’s dreary schoolday and the top popping off an industrial-size Carvel drum?

Truant was composed on the fly, and on the sly, dodging college security in vacant but off-limits practice rooms. This brooding micro-suite shifts from neoromantic lustre to gently tumbling phrases and more of the cell-like riffs Fox returns to throughout the album.

Caterpillar Serenade references the toy accordion Fox’s brother played for him on the occasion of his sixth birthday, although the song is hardly blithe, music-box ambience interchanging with a starkly bluesy, emphatic drive. The wryly titled, expansive Preamble gives the whole ensemble a chance to methodically survey their surroundings through matter-of-fact metric shifts and hints of Monk.

With its bounding, hard-hitting riffage from piano and bass, Fat Frog – another 80s frozen food reference – brings to mind a leaner kind of amphibian. The bass propels a jaunty tiptoe swing that veers toward ragtime: gotta get to the Mister Softee truck before it closes!

Emotional Baggage Carousel, inspired by a New York airport incident, goes bouncing round and round in a kaleidoscope of emotions that ripple toward stern and Tschaikovskian: is that the bag? Nope. Over there? Umm…Or maybe this is the baggage, with accents and energy from all over the world, doing the talking.

The album closes with Old Wash World, a shout-out to Fox’s local laundromat. dancing along over an altered stride lefthand. His laundromat fixation is common for New Yorkers: those places can be dear to our hearts. In the pre-internet era, a future daily New York music blog proprietor relished the chance to do laundry because that was the only place in the neighborhood where a portable radio could pull jazz station WBGO. And Brooklyn jazz hotspot Barbes occupies a former laundromat space.


January 19, 2018 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rapturous Musical Cross-Pollination at Women Between Arts at the New School

Yesterday was the fourth installment of Luisa Muhr’s new interdisciplinary series Women Between Arts at the New School. One would think that there would be several series in this city devoted to women whose work crosses the line between different artistic disciplines, but this appears to be the only one at present. What’s new with Muhr’s series is that it isn’t just a place for women artists who defy categorization: it’s also a space where adventurous established artists can branch out beyond their usual practice.

Case in point: Jean Rohe. She’s known as a songwriter and a strong, distinctive acoustic guitarist (to call her a folksinger would be reductionistic). Throughout her tantalizingly brief performance yesterday’s show, she did a lot of storytelling.

This narrative was harrowing. Rohe was named after her paternal grandmother, who killed herself on December 9, 1961. Tragically, just like her father, Rohe didn’t find out about the suicide until years later. That revelation springboarded an “odyssey,” as she termed it, to find out the truth and what pushed the woman over the edge.

Like many of the projects that find their way to Women Between Arts, it’s a work in progress, and a hauntingly captivating one. Rohe’s fingerpicking channeled distant delta blues grimness with her opening number, then she referenced the Penelope myth with a more expansive, anthemic tune. Her final song, she told the crowd, was set in Hades: “In New Jersey, as we all know,” she mused, drawing a handful of chuckles. The narrative saw her climbing into her grandmother’s old black Buick at a stoplight, to find her crying and incommunicado, a ghost before her time.

Noa Fort is known as a composer of translucent piano jazz informed by classical music as well as her own Israeli heritage. After guiding the crowd through a brief meditation, she had them write down their innermost feelings on slips of paper so she could channel and maybe exorcise those issues. As it turned out, this was a very  uneasy crowd. Fort plucked around inside the piano gingerly, George Crumb style before launching into a series of eerie belltones, close harmonies and finally a woundedly descending anthem. She closed with a somewhat elegaic but ultimately optimistic ballad where a calmly participatory crowd carried the melody upwards. 

Trina Basu, one of the great violinists in Indian classical music, leads the pioneering carnatic string band Karavika. This time out, she played a rapturous homage to 16th century mystic Meera Bai, joined by Orakel tabla player Roshni Samlal and singer Priya Darshini. Basu explained that she’d discovered the controversial, pioneering proto-feminist poet via the work of 1960s singer Lakshmi Shankar.

Basu opened the trio’s first epic number with elegant spirals that spun off into sepulchral harmonics, then built steam, rising up and down in a series of graceful pizzicato exchanges with the tabla. Darshini sang the second long piece, Basu and Samlal matching its poignancy, an ancient raga theme sliced and diced through the prism of progressive jazz. 

 The next installment of Women Between Arts is Jan 21 at 3 PM at the New School’s Glass Box Theatre (i.e. the new Stone) at 55 W 13th St., with Meredith Monk collaborator Ellen Fisher, lustrously haunting singer/composer Sara Serpa with cellist Erik Friedlander and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, and Appalachian music maven Anna Roberts-Gevalt.


January 8, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Christmas Album That’s Not Cloying and Annoying

Christmas music rots your brain. It’s true! Scientific studies have confirmed what most of us have known all along. No wonder, considering how repetitive, unsophisticated and utterly lacking in dynamics most Christmas songs are.

Into this musical wasteland swings Champian Fulton, one of the great wits in jazz, with her irresistible and stunningly dynamic new album Christmas With Champian, streaming at Spotify. There hasn’t been a Christmas record this fun or this subtly irreverent since dub reggae band Super Hi-Fi’s two woozy instrumental albums of “holiday favorites.”

Fulton is the best singing pianist in jazz. There isn’t another instrumentalist out there with her mic skills, nor a singer with her fearsome chops at the keys. More than anything else, this is a great jazz record in a Santa hat. Fulton never ceases to find both poignancy and exuberant fun in the least expected places. For the latter, check out how she Sarah Vaughns White Christmas, the album’s opening track. Better watch out if you don’t want that snow, because Fulton sounds like she might smack you upside the head! It’s a good guess that Irving Berlin, who cut his teeth in ragtime, would approve of this jaunty, bluesy arrangement.

Fulton’s take of Pretty Paper, recast as a brisk jazz waltz, has to be the saddest version of the song ever recorded. That vendor girl, out there in the cold with all that merch she has to unload before the 25th of the month or she loses all her money! Likewise, the solo piano-and-vocal version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas is balmy and plaintive: when Fulton hits the end of the chorus, “if only in my dreams” packs a wallop.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland gets reinvented as wry viper swing, with some coyly emphatic trumpet from her dad, Stephen Fulton, who also lights up a carefully articulated version of Gracias a Dios. She sings that one in Spanish, hardly a stretch considering her Mexican heritage – and the point where she follows her dad’s solo with a deadpan jinglebell solo of her own is subtly priceless. Drummer Fukushi Tainaka’s elegant brushwork and David Williams’ terse bass add subtle bolero hints.

The Christmas Song – better known as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire – is one of only a couple of tracks here with a genuine jazz pedigree, but Fulton goes for devious, tongue-in-cheek humor rather than trying to follow in Nat Cole’s footsteps.  She reinvents Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas as midtempo swing, with hints of Dinah Washington and an unexpectedly dark intro that edges toward barrelhouse.

Daughter and father team up to remake Christmas Time Is Here as a bittersweet, lustrous, languidly tropical instrumental ballad. Likewise, she transforms A Child Is Born into a bluesy waltz, with a melismatic, insistent bass solo. Her piano solo in a wee-hours take of The Christmas Waltz goes in the opposite direction, with enough droll ornamentation for a fifty-foot tree.

Her version of Sleigh Ride pairs a boisterous trumpet solo with an unexpectedly seductive vocal and teasingly allusive piano, an approach she revisits in Let It Snow. The Dinah-inspired piano-and-vocal final number, Merry Merry Christmas, is the only Fulton original here, but could easily date from sixty years ago – and might make it to your local supermarket someday.


December 16, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Marta Sanchez Brings Her Elegant, Lustrous Tunefulness to the West Village

Lustrous atmosphere and elegant glimmer at the top of the keys introduces the opening track on  pianist Marta Sanchez’s latest album, Danza Imposible, streaming at Bandcamp. Is it impossible to dance to? Not necessarily. Does the music itself dance? A fair amount. What’s very, very possible about it is that you can hum along. Sanchez is a strong tunesmith and doesn’t fall for postbop cliches. She has a thing for syncopated Philip Glass-like variations on a central, circular hook; a sense of angst lurks in the background throughout many of the numbers here. She’s leading her quintet this Nov 22 at Cornelia St. Cafe, with sets at 8 and 9:30 PM; cover is $10 + a $10 minimum.

Copa De Luz (Bolt of Light), the opening song, rides Sanchez’s catchy,, confident clusters as drummer Daniel Dor adds similarly flashes of color, the two-sax frontline of Jerome Sabbagh and Roman Filiu providing wafting harmonies. The Glass-ine phrase and variations that open the album’s title track make way for an unexpectedly lush, lingering interlude, Sabbagh’s airy lines over spacious piano chords; then they pick up the pace with lively solos from Filiu and the bandleader. A little later on, the band revisit a similar dynamic in Nebulosa, but more spaciously and minimally, pensively fluttering horns juxtaposed with enigmatically sparkling piano.

Uneasily twinkling minimalism pervades Scillar, a gloomy tone poem, Sanchez’s moody ripples finally congealing back against the horns’ tense close harmonies. As its title suggests, El Girasol (Sunflower) alludes to a brisk, carefree stroll, Filiu kicking in an expansive, sailing solo before Sanchez goes cascading. She returns to circling variations with Board, shifting subtly from a low-key clave toward funk and back as bassist Rick Rosato maintains a low-key pulse, Dor having fun as he edges toward a second-line groove.

Flesh mashes up kinetic, Monk-like phrasing and neoromantic majesty echoed by Dor’s subtly crescendoing toms and cymbals; Rosato’s spare solo appears out of nowhere. The sarcastically titled final number, Junk Food morphs from spare and pensive to a funky triplet groove. Purposeful and vivid music played with intense focus.


November 20, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kelly Green Brings Her Vintage Jazz Voice and Sophisticated Postbop Compositions to Smalls Next Month

The sound of a siren in passing traffic opens pianist/singer Kelly Green’s new album Life Rearranged, streaming at Spotify. In addition to a mix of standards, some striking originals with flashes of greatness pervade this urbane, classy, purist album: Green is someone to keep your eye on. The material is typically on the melancholy side but with occasional wistful humor. Vocally, Sarah Vaughan seems to be an obvious influence; on the keys, Green plays with a strong sense for space and a flair for the unexpected. She and her group are playing the album release show on Dec 13 at 10:30 PM at Smalls; cover is $20 and includes a drink.

The spaciously forlorn opening track is just piano and vocals, a jazz tone poem of sorts until Jonathan Barber’s rustling drums finally come in at the very end before a coda that’s too pricelessly apt and instantly identifiably New York to give away. It’s a good start.

Green’s voice takes on a knowing, resolutely insistent Sarah Vaughan-esque tone in Never Will I Marry, Josh Evans’ trumpet and Green’s judicious piano punctuating this swing shuffle. That similarly emphatic vocal delivery contrasts with her pointillistically striking piano in I’ll Know, Christian McBride’s subtle bass slipping in at the end.

Vibraphonist Steve Nelson adds sunburst and then dapple to Little Daffodil as Green and the band artfully shift meters. A strikingly acerbic, rainy-day chart – Evans and Mike Troy on alto sax  – shade the instrumental ballad If You Thought to Ask Me before Green’s spare, poignant piano enters the picture, followed by a moody muted trumpet solo and a vividly cautious bass solo.

Likewise, the horns fuel the harried, noirish bustle of Culture Shock, Green’s emphatic swipes anchoring a balloon-in-the-wind alto solo. The album’s most epic track, the band descends into dissociative Sketches of Spain allusions and flutter loosely to a tightly wound drums solo before jumping back into the rat race again. Evans’ haggard, frenetic modes and ripples bring the intensity upward as the melody grows more Middle Eastern.

Green’s take of I Should Care plays up the lyrics’ resolute irony, matched by McBride’s playfully dancing bass solo and Green’s carefree ornamentation on the 88s. In the same vein, Sunday in New York becomes a vehicle for both Green’s jaunty, irrepressible vocals and hard-hitting piano, McBride again capping everything off on a high note.

Simple Feelings/The Truth is a darkly lustrous, distantly latin-tinged midtempo postbop number, building from austere and ambered to a lively sax/trumpet interweave. Green brings the lights down for a dreamy piano/vibes/vocals take of If I’m Lucky, followed by the scrambling All of You, Troy’s alto scampering through the storm. Green reprises the title track at the album’s end as a full-scale instrumental theme with solos all around and a wry trumpet quote or two. On one hand, it’s great that she has her vocal side: there are unlimited gigs for that. What’s most auspicious is her own compositions, and the outside-the-box sensibility that pervades them. Champian Fulton did an all-instrumental album: maybe Green should be next.


November 17, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entertainment and Formidable Piano Chops at an Unexpectedly Contemplative Spot with Champian Fulton

Champian Fulton brings a rare blend of daunting piano and vocal chops to the final nights of her indian summer Radegast Hall residency this Sept 18 at 8 PM. She’s also here on the 25th. Either way, it’s Monday, and it’s professional night, and while you might not expect people to come to listen, they do. Remember, every bar on a Monday could be the best bar in town.

Fulton’s latest album is The Things We Did Last Summer, a collaboration with suave tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton recorded live onstage in Spain last year and streaming at Spotify. It’s a mix of instrumental and vocal numbers, and despite the fact that it’s mostly standards, it’s arguably the high point of Fulton’s career so far. She makes solid studio albums – her all-instrumental collection, Speechless, is a party in a box – but both co-leaders do their best work onstage. More artists – particularly players who can improvise at the level the band reaches here – should be making live records.

Fulton’s subtle, tantalizingly melismatic vocals and entertaining stage presence are what she’s best known for, but she’s also a hell of a pianist. To open the album, she brings a moody been-there, done-that, know-your-pain feel to When Your Lover Has Gone, contrasting with a spacious, playfully jaunty, ragtime-tinged piano solo. Hamilton brings in the mist from there; Fulton really works the blue notes at the end.

The ten-plus minute take of Basie’s Black Velvet is a classic example of the kind of extended excursion Fulton excels at when the night is winding down, but she’s not ready to call it quits. Bassist Ignasi Gonzalez and drummer Esteve Pi settle into a comfortable midtempo stroll as Fulton winds her way up from gimlet-eye glimmer toward jubilation, Hamilton echoing her as he takes the long way in through the fog.

Fulton gets back on the mic with a barely restrained vengefulness for I Cried for You, which the band takes scampering, Gonzalez’ wry, brisk bass ballet contrasting with Fulton’s clenched-teeth attack on the keys. There’s a Sarah Vaughan-ish told-your-so quality to the vocals, but it’s not derivative.

The album’s instrumental title track brings back the wee-hours serenity, Hamilton plush and balmy over Fulton’s lingering phrases. Then the two offer contrast, floating sax against Fulton’s lowdown bluesy vocals and joyous staccato piano in Too Marvelous For Words.

Allusive, understated bluesy angst pervades an expansive vocal take of My Future Just Passed, this one closer to the Shirley Horn version. Then the band picks up the pace with the hot jazz standard Running Wild before going back to the “Great American Songbook” for a lush excursion through The Very Thought of You, Fulton ending the night with misty suspense that Hamilton works for all it’s worth before her fingers finally bust it through the clouds. It’s a good bet she’ll do something a lot like this during the Williamsburg stand.

For those in Jersey, she’s also at the Gruin Center for the Arts on College Drive on the Ocean County College campus in Toms River on Sept 19 at 8; tix are $24/$20 srs.


September 16, 2017 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Rare Brooklyn Residency By the Best Singing Pianist in Jazz

Lately there’s been a lot of top-drawer jazz popping up in some unexpected places. When Bar Lunatico in Bed-Stuy booked the Jazz Passengers for a weekly residency, that sent a signal. Likewise, the cavernous Williamsburg beer garden Radegast Hall books many of this city’s best swing bands, but it’s not known as a listening room – and if you’ve witnessed the din there on the weekend, you know why. But that’s not always the case.

This September, the venue has booked pianist/singer/composer Champian Fulton for a Monday night, 8 PM weekly residency that resumes September 18. If you’re a serious jazz fan and you’re on a budget – the venue doesn’t charge a cover – you’d be crazy to miss this. If Manhattan is easier for you, she’s also at Smoke on Sept 7 with sets at 7:30, 9 and 10:30. 

Watching her figure out where she was going to go, in a spit-second, pensive smile on her face a couple of weeks ago at her first night at the Brooklyn venue was great fun – and a revelation. Fulton is known as a singer. Dinah Washington is the obvious influence – Fulton’s 2016 album After Dark got a big thumbs-up here, as did her 2017 all-instrumental release, Speechless. The former is a subtle reinterpretation of songs that other chanteuses tend to mimic rather than putting their own stamp on. But while nuance is what distinguishes Fulton’s vocals, she’s got fire in her fingers. Not to disrespect Diana Krall’s piano chops, and Karrin Allyson is a much better pianist than she typically lets on, but there’s no other singer in jazz with chops as fast and fluid as Fulton’s  Nor is there a pianist with her speed and prowess who’s equally gifted on the mic.

Through almost a full two sets, she only played one instrumental, a percolating postbop shuffle to open the night – understandable considering that most of the acts here have vocalists. The rest of the set was mostly standards, which also makes sense considering where she was. It was what Fulton did with them that separates her from thousands and thousands of loungey acts around the world. For example, was she going to follow that snarkly little curlicue with another devious glissando? Yessssssss. Maybe one more time? Nope. She’d already moved on to a big hammering series of downward chords.

“Every gig is a good gig,” she mused between sets. Confident words – or just the daily routine for one of the great wits in jazz, who makes no secret how much fun she’s having onstage. Her rhythm section shuffled and swung tersely and tightly behind her as she made her way through one eclectic intro after another: hard blues into Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone, plaintive classical balladry into April in Paris. Then she’d take flight over the entire span of the keyboard, trickly highs to looming lows, slowly building to a crescendo and then back at times. Like her vocals, the musical jokes were subtle, but there were a lot of them, quotes from other tunes as well as unexpected peek-a-boo phrases and more. See for yourself next month.


August 29, 2017 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment