Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Tia Fuller’s Angelic Warrior: More Weapons Than Wings

Saxophonist Tia Fuller may be best known to jazz listeners these days as a member of Esperanza Spalding’s band. With her new album Angelic Warrior – just out from Mack Avenue – Fuller matches her ferocious, purist chops with an equally formidable, eclectically cerebral approach to postbop composition. Much of this has to do with having grown up in a jazz family as the daughter of bassist father Fred Fuller, singer mom Elthopia Fuller and pianist sister Shamie Royston, who plays on this album along with her husband, this generation’s exemplary extrovert drummer, Rudy Royston. The rest of the cast, sometimes adding up to an all-female band, includes Mimi Jones on bass, John Patitucci playing single-note guitar-style leads on piccolo bass and Shirazette Tinnin on percussion. Terri Lyne Carrington guests on drums on three tracks, and Dianne Reeves adds an aptly misty vocal on Body and Soul, which the band reinvents as an expansive clave soul ballad, somewhat akin to Joe Jackson backing Sade.

On both alto and soprano horn, Fuller plays with a distinctively bright, penetrating tone, considerably more warrior than angel, right from the hard-hitting opening chords of Royston Rumble, the whole fam here united with a purposefulness that pervades this record, with a classic, explosive Rudy Royston solo toward the end. By contrast, Ralphie’s Groove – a Ralph Peterson shout-out, with a tip of the hat to both Ahmad Jamal and Tony Williamas – is the first of several showcases for Fuller’s razorlike precision on soprano. Fuller’s wickedly spiraling solo on the long horn toward the end of the title track is absolutely exquisite, as is her brother-in-law’s artfully shuffling descent to the toms after a bubbly solo by his wife: there’s an easy explanation for the chemistry in this band.

While the catchy ballad Lil Les may have been written as a playful child’s theme, with bright alto and piano solos in turn, it has a memorably uneasy undercurrent. Likewise, the breezy soca allusions in Descend to Barbados have edge and bite, particularly when Fuller ‘s alto nails the end of a casually sailing Pattituci solo toward the end. Their take on So in Love counterintuitively juxtaposes languid balladry with stilletto staccato swing lit up by an animated Jones solo and a clenched-teeth crescendo from the rhythm section. A pretty standard-issue Rhodes funk tune, Tailor Made suddenly dims the lights as Jones solos with a lingering tension before the band takes it back to funk on the heels of another Royston Rumble. They follow that with the catchy, spacious, brooding balllad Core of Me and then the matter-of-factly swinging Simpli-city, deftly spiraling piano in contrast to Fuller’s head-on, almost minimalist alto. And they finally take Cherokee from a suspenseful shuffle driven by Tinnin’s circling percussion to a racewalking swing, Fuller’s clustering alto crescendo keeping a steady eye on the target no matter how far she moves off center. Tunesmithing? Check. Playing? Doublecheck. Not a bad song on this album: a stealth contender for best of 2012.

September 25, 2012 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project Comes Together Mightily

If the names Elvin, Max, Philly Joe, or Tony Williams mean anything to you, you’ll love this album. It’s yet another first-class new B3 jazz record that breaks the mold. Drummer Ralph Peterson’s Unity Project’s new Outer Reaches album was originally conceived as a joint tribute to Larry Young, Woody Shaw and their iconic 1965 Unity album , but morphed into something more original. It’s melodic jazz with strong hooks, Peterson – one of the most consistently interesting and forceful drummers around, and also a strong composer – joined by Josh Evans on trumpet, Jovan Alexandre on tenor and Pat Bianchi on organ. Much as Peterson is a powerful, propulsive presence, he’s also a colorist, alternating between a rumble and a whisper, sometimes simultaneously. He also contributes trumpet here – it’s a fun ride.

They open with Woody Shaw’s The Moontrane, shuffling briskly with absolutely blazing trumpet and more casual sax from Alexandre. Bianchi takes it even more tersely as Peterson lurks on the perimeter, and then the two join forces as they will throughout the album, bubbling up in tandem. Peterson alludes to distant thunder against the horns as it winds out. The second cut, Monk’s Dream is a deliciously radical reinvention, constantly shifting shape – at one point Bianchi takes over both rhythm and melody as Peterson prowls aggressively, Rudy Royston style. The false ending is a lot of fun. A nimble, purposeful organ tune, the title track – an original dedicated to Peterson’s dad – features more expansive perimeter work from the drums, Alexandre again bringing it down to earth after Evans’ joyous extrapolations.

Shaw’s Katrina Ballerina is as lyrical as one would hope, Evans’ understatedly wounded solo followed memorably by a warily expansive one by Alexandre. Peterson can’t resist playfully sideswiping every other beat on a lickety-split version of Shaw’s Beyond All Limits; arguably the most captivating of all the Shaw stuff here is Zoltan, with its artful, shifting horn segments, allusively martial drum intro and jovially spiraling guitar from guest Dave Fiuczynski. But the real standout tracks here are the originals. On My Side is an all-too-brief, slowly unwinding, classic late 50s style ballad with a warmly memorable Alexandre solo; Beyond My Wildest Dream portrays Peterson’s wife as somebody who’s bright, really has her act together but also has a lot of fun, lit up by Evans’ ebullient attack and some more killer interplay with Peterson shadowing Bianchi as he wheels around. And Inside Job is a juicily noirish, catchy theme that Bianchi tackles with casual hints of menace.

You know implied melody, right? Well, Peterson gets deep into implied rhythm on a stunningly terse, minimalistic take of Ritha, by Larry Young – when the organ drops out and leaves it to the drums, the effect is that the blithe shuffle is still going on even though Peterson is only playing about 20% of the time. It’s arguably the high point of the album. There’s also a blistering, funky cover of John McLaughlin’s Spectrum, Fiuczynski in “on” mode all the way through, blowing the Mahavishnu original to smithereens. The only miss here is an attempt to jazz up the Xmas carol We Three Kings – it’s better than Jethro Tull’s version of Good King Wenceslas, but it’s hard to do much with a grammarschool playground singalong: “We three kings of orient are/Tried to smoke a rubber cigar.” No, they don’t sing it. Maybe they should have. Peterson and crew play the cd release show for this one on June 4 at 9 PM at the Cornelia St. Cafe.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment