Tia Fuller: Pillar of Strength (2005)
Saxophonist and flutist Tia Fuller stakes her claim to being one of the finest new musicians on the scene with her exhilarating debut as a leader, Pillar of Strength. Her top-shelf chops on reed and wind instruments are complemented by her formidable skills as a composer and arranger, and she has an excellent band along for the ride.
Things jump off at the top with the burning title cut, a Marion Jones sprint, with Fuller playing an alto solo bursting with passion and dexterity. Kim Thompson thunders behind her on drums, Miriam Sullivan's bass pumps the bloodstream, and Miki Hayama comps nimbly on piano. Fuller displays a light, airy touch on soprano on the Afro-Cuban blend "New Life. Sean Jones' well-spaced, eloquent trumpet solo stokes the fire and is followed by another solid Hayama solo. Fuller and Jones bring the song home with a tight trumpet/soprano tandem.
The virtuosity continues as Fuller picks up the flute on her introspective, sultry original "Rain of Patience, her light, beautiful touch supplemented by Sullivan's strong plucked solo. Fuller returns to alto on the groovin' "Bookie-Head, whose fine horn play recalls the kind of Blue Note riffs that formed the backbone of acid jazz. "Easy Living is a soothing bass/alto duet that Sullivan closes with an arco flourish. Hayama's Wonder-esque chords on the Fender Rhodes are the highlight of "Golden Lady.
Fuller plays more richly harmonic soprano on "Sunday Nostalgia," sharing more simpatico with Jones' flugelhorn. "In Her Honor, a tribute to Fuller written by Jones, is a straight-ahead jumper with a Latin twist. After Fuller's strong solo the composer takes his own dynamic turn, blowing the song out. "My Secret Love, a slice of romance nicely rendered by the band all around, more than fulfills the standard requirement.
Fuller commits a glorious act of self-destruction on "Little Big Sis by blowing her own tune to smithereens with an absolutely blistering solo. On-point playing by the rhythm section and another high-wire act by Jones makes this tune the highlight of the disc. Fuller closes the show with a reverent solo soprano on "I Surrender All.
It's unfortunate that, in a diminishing jazz market, artists like Tia Fuller and her bandmates must struggle to be heard. Here's to hoping that this refreshing talent breaks through the wall of silence.
Track Listing: Pillar of Strength; New Life; Rain of Patience; Bookie-Head; Easy Living; Golden Lady; Sunday Nostalgia; In Her Honor; My Secret Love; Little Big Sis; I Surrender All.
Personnel: Tia Fuller: alto and soprano saxophones, flute; Sean Jones: trumpet, flugelhorn; Miki Hayama: piano, Fender Rhodes; Miriam Sullivan: acoustic bass; Kim Thompson: drums; Ashton Fuller: drums (9); cowbell, woodblock (2); Daisy Shumake-Taylor: congas (2).