Curtis Fuller: Down Home (2012)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The trombone can be smoothly seductive, raucous, rasping or cheekily fruity by turn. Curtis Fuller is a master of the instrument, a veteran of six decades of top flight jazz who is still full of creativity as a player and writer. Featuring his regular sextet, Down Home is an absolutely delightful recordinga sophisticated collection of tunes performed with a real sense of joy.
Fuller's place in jazz history was assured with his appearance on saxophonist John Coltrane's Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), at the age of 22. Fuller's tone may have softened in the intervening decades and, in later years, his respiratory power has diminished somewhat, but he remains a player with a consummate command of the trombone and its various tones and textures. Above all, he can still swinghis sense of dynamics and his soulful approach to playing ensure that he continues to produce some fine music.
Fuller contributes six tunes to Down Home, a selection which proves that his compositional ability is just as strong as his playing. "Down Home" has a joyful, swinging groove driven by Ken Walker's jaunty bass line; "Ladies Night" has something of a "Blue Train" feel to its opening refrain; and "Sweetness" is a gentle swinger featuring trumpeter Alan Hood's precise, muted, solo. "The High Priest" is an up-tempo, hard bop tune driven by Walker and drummer Todd Reid, who both play with invention; indeed, the whole sextet lets loose on this terrific, high-energy number.
Pianist Chip Stephens' cheerful, mid-tempo "C Hip's Blues" features a raw-toned solo from Fuller; by contrast, the pianist's "Sadness And Soul" is a ballad whose mood is, as the title suggests, more melancholy and reflective, with Hood and tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman joining Fuller to deliver its graceful melody. Oxman's "Jonli Bercosta" is another up-tempo, hard bop swinger with strong ensemble playing and a standout solo from the saxophonist.
While Fuller is a dominant presence on Down Home, the other musicians each add their own personalities to the music. This is a tight, cohesive, ensemble with a great feel for the music; Down Home wouldn't sound the same if even one of these players was absent. On Down Home, Fuller has a band and a body of work that stands comparison with almost any point in his long and illustrious career.
Track Listing: Down Home; Ladies' Night; C Hip's Blues; Sadness and Soul; Nu Groove; Then I'll Be Tired of You; Mr. L; Sweetness; Jonli Bercosta; The High Priest.
Personnel: Curtis Fuller: trombone; Keith Oxman: tenor sax; Al Hood: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chip Stephens: piano; Ken Walker: bass; Todd Reid: drums.
Record Label: Capri Records