Nobody does Duke-style big band music better than David Berger's Sultans of Swing, so just hearing this big band so attuned to swing with such Ellington-ian touches as muted lead and solo brass voices, and weaving saxophones and clarinets is a joy. That the arrangements all feature singer Champian Fulton is not always such a plus. Berger, like his idol the Duke, seems less perspicacious in his appraisal of singers than instrumentalists. But Ellington rarely featured a singer for more than two or three numbers, and Fulton may be fine for such brief interludes in a big band show. However, she can be wearing over the course of an album.
Fulton has a pleasant voice but, to borrow the vocabulary of an American Idol judge, she can be "pitchy." But even more problematical is an almost callow lack of a personality in her vocal delivery, marked by a penchant for phrasing that habitually drifts off at the end of lines. Berger has said that he wanted to make an album in the "tradition of those made by the great popular singers of the 1950s and 1960s," but when direct comparisons are unavoidable, as on "It's Crazy," inspired by Sarah Vaughan's recording with Clifford Brown, Fulton proves a pale imitation of The Divine One. The singer actually seems more at home in the 1930s, in Jimmie Lunceford/Sy Oliver-styled arrangements of "He Ain't Got Rhythm and a "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," the last complete with a hip male vocal trio.
Track Listing: I Didn't Mean A Word I Said; He Ain't Got Rhythm; This Is Always; They Didn't Believe Me; I Can't Give You Anything But Love; Get Out of Town; Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens; It's Crazy; The Gypsy; You Turned The Tables On Me; Too Close For Comfort; Romance In The Dark; Just One Of Those Things; Never-The-Less.
Personnel: Champian Fulton: vocals, piano (10, 14); David Berger: conductor, arranger; Jay Brandford: reeds; Matt Hong: reeds, vocals; Dan Block: reeds; Mark Hynes: reeds; Carl Maraghi: reeds; Bob Millikan: trumpet; Brian "Fletch" Pareschi: trumpet, vocals; Irv Grossman: trumpet; Michael Rodriguez: trumpet; Wayne Goodman: trombone; Ryan Keberle: trombone, vocals; Marshall Gilkes: trombone; Isaac ben Ayala: piano; Dennis Irwin: bass; Jimmy Madison: drums.