Curtis Fuller: Down Home (2012)
The jazz world of the fifties and sixties was undeniably a golden age, and legendary trombonist Curtis Fuller was one of the era's key voices. Throughout his sixty-year career, Fuller has worked with some of jazz's foundational players: he appears on saxophonist John Coltrane's Blue Train (Blue Note, 1957), he was part of drummer Art Blakey's smoking hot, early sixties Jazz Messengers, plus he worked with trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, saxophonists Hank Mobley and Benny Golson, bassists Paul Chambers and Jimmy Garrison, and pianists Bud Powell and Red Garland. In short, he was there. But unlike so many others, Fuller is still here and still going strong, as witnessed by Down Home, his excellent release from Colorado-based Capri Records.
Fuller is joined by his working group of the past seven years: Keith Oxman, who has joined the illustrious circle of Fuller's saxophone soul mates; the mighty Al Hood, surely one of the most commanding trumpet voices in American jazz; nimble pianist Chip Stephens, who Fuller nicknamed "Fingers"; bassist Ken Walker, who anchors the group with buoyant swing and bottomless soul; and Todd Reid, a perpetually tasteful drummer who keeps watertight time. One of the reasons this group is special is because its members have bonded deeply offstage as well as on. In Oxman's liner notes, he speaks of Fuller's belief that it's important to spend time with the people you play music with, and over the past years this group has done exactly that. As a result, all the musicians are wonderfully relaxed and responsive to one another; whether the group is performing live or in a recording studio, everyone sounds like they're having the time of their life.
The ten songs on Down Home are absolutely delectable, each one flawlessly executed with taste, energy, and heart. Fuller's soulful trombone and beautifully crafted solos provide the backbone, and the group is clearly galvanized by his wisdom and experience. Six of the tunes are Fuller originals, and it's an immense pleasure to hear classics such as "Down Home," "Nu Groove," "Ladies Night," "Mr. L," "Sweetness," and "The High Priest." But this CD is not a nostalgia tripthe music is happening right now, fresh and strong, simultaneously classic and new. And although most of the music is up-tempo and hard swinging, contrast is provided by Stephens' lovely "Sadness and Soul," as well as the ballad "Then I'll Be Tired of You," where Oxman's sax sounds like liquid gold as it pours through the touching melody.
This is archetypal jazz, nourishing hard-bop soul food to return to again and again. Long live Curtis Fuller! And long live this fantastic group, which shines throughout as it supports a jazz legend in his late-career renaissance.
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.