The timeless Curtis Fuller has been a brand name trombone player for about 50 years now and he's never sounded better than he does on his two new releases, Up Jumped Spring and Keep It Simple, which will enhance his standing as one of the bright and enduring stars in the jazz firmament. These discs prove that not only does he still have strong chops but he can bring a fresh perspective to classics and originals. This was evident during a recent gig at Sweet Rhythm, where he led a dynamic sextet that included three members of the Louis Hayes group, including the venerable drummer himself, the rhythm section sounding like they had been playing together for years.
Up Jumped Spring
Fuller opens Up Jumped Spring with his take on Herbie Hancock's jazz classic and hip-hop/acid jazz standard "Cantaloupe Island with excellent accompaniment by his young charges, particularly trumpeter Brad Goode, whose soaring play provides some of that old-time Blue Note religion. The title cut finds Fuller playing as mellow and spry as ever and Goode channels Miles on the trumpet with a splendid muted solo. Pianist Karl Montzka, Larry Gray on bass and Tim Davis on drums drive the rhythm.
The group swings on Duke Ellington's "In A Mellow Tone , Goode continuing his splendid muted trumpeting. Montzka again displays facility and dexterity on the piano, Gray again making a bowed solo statement on bass. During the echoing that occurs during the statement of the theme between Fuller and Goode, the leader prefers to follow the (comparatively) young lion, giving him room to create and showing a respect and musical generosity of spirit Fuller seems to have inherited from Art Blakey.
On "God Bless the Child , a duet between Fuller and Montzka, the venerable trombonist practically sings the words of one of jazz' most enduring cautionary tales through his horn. "Bags' Groove jumps out of the box with Fuller once again putting together a masterful solo. Goode removes the mute and we hear him unbridled for the first time and it's a treat. On Coltrane's "Equinox Goode also plays sans mute and solos with a resonant, confident tone. The small Coltrane tribute continues with "I'm Old Fashioned , a tune featured on the classic Blue Train, an album on which Fuller appeared. Ironically, on this version he pretty much lays out, allowing the rhythm section to do its thing. The leader returns in full force on "Alone Together , on which Goode does his most powerful blowing on the date. The disc ends with "Star Eyes , which according to Fuller was one of Miles Davis' favorites. Montzka can swing with any pianist around and his sound and articulation on this cut reaffirms his talent. Goode goes back to the Harmon mute and plays yet another impressive solo to complement Fuller's own spirited turn.
Keep It Simple
According to the liner notes, Keep It Simple was the jazz equivalent of a pickup basketball game, with the band members just hooking up for the session. On the opener, "The Court , saxophonist Javon Jackson solos over Fuller's statement of the melody. After Fuller and Jackson state the melody on "The Maze , Jackson plays a strongly Trane-ish solo that invokes "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise . Fuller states his case ably during his solo and pianist Doug Carn riffs like McCoy Tyner. The quaint "Girl Talk finds Fuller in great form as he bookends the tune with his misty statements of the melody, letting bandmates Carn and bassist Rodney Jordan shine on their solos.
"Lover Man begins with a dolorous bowed solo by Jordan, with Fuller blowing the melody, then Jackson picking it up at the bridge. The two men exchange solos, with Jackson's second turn being appropriately slow and bluesy, with a clear, solid tone. The rhythm section takes a turn, sans Fuller and Jackson, on Carn's "Western Sunrise making the listener wonder what this trio would sound like on its own disc.
"Arabia is another Fuller original plucked from his days as a Jazz Messenger and it dances and jives under the able chops of the leader and Jackson. Fuller lays out on "Diane , Jackson's original ballad, which he and the rhythm section play with warmth, tenderness and a bit of dramatic tension. The disc concludes with with "It's You or No One . Carn takes the first solo, followed by Jackson. Fritz Wise on drums and Jordan keep it all pinned down and the band sprints to the finish line in style.
Up Jumped Spring
Tracks: 1) Cantaloupe Island; 2) Up Jumped Spring; 3) In A Mellow Tone; 4) God Bless the Child; 5) Bags' Groove; 6) Equinox; 7) I'm Old Fashioned; 8) Alone Together; 9) Whisper Not; 10) Black Night; 11) Star Eyes
Personnel: Curtis Fuller: Trombone; Brad Goode: Trumpet; Karl Montzka: Piano; Larry Gray: Bass; Stewart Miller: Bass; Tim Davis: Drums; Jacey Falk: Vocal (track 10 only)
Keep It Simple
Tracks: 1) Spoken Intro; 2) The Court; 3) Maze; 4) Girl Talk; 5) A La Mode; 6) Lover Man; 7) Western Sunrise; 8) Arabia; 9) I Didn't Know What Time It Was; 10) Diane; 11) It's You Or No One
Personnel: Curtis Fuller: Trombone (except tracks 7 & 10); Javon Jackson: Tenor Saxophone (except tracks 4 & 7); Doug Carn: Piano; Rodney Jordan: Bass; Fritz Wise: Drums