What a rare privilege it is to review a new entry in Blue Note's esteemed RVG reissues series knowing that the featured artist can still be caught at venues around New York City. Such is the case with trombone virtuoso Curtis Fuller, whose 1957 Blue Note debut The Opener has been remastered courtesy of the great Rudy Van Gelder. Although he recorded two sessions for Prestige that predated it, Fuller's Blue Note date hit the shelves first. Therefore its title fits perfectly, making it the world's first, true introduction to Fuller as a leader.
Like so many of his fellow Blue Note all stars, Fuller hails from Detroit. He quickly gained a reputation for being a special talent after long-term gigs with Miles Davis at the Cafe Bohemia as well as with Yusef Lateef's combo, with whom he originally traveled from the Motor City to the Big Apple. Alfred Lion quickly arranged a date for Fuller and a star-studded cast of Blue Note regulars including Hank Mobley (tenor), Bobby Timmons (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Art Taylor (drums). The date resulted in an easy-going, straight-ahead session where it's obvious that Lion didn't want to put too much pressure on the Blue Note rookie with overly challenging arrangements.
Lion did, however, make a brave and ultimately rewarding choice by opening The Opener with a ballad. "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" is indeed a lovely way to begin the album. The down-tempo swinger allows Fuller to take the lead right away; he states the theme with a cool elegance that cancels any notion the listener might have had that the trombone can't solo with the fluidity of trumpet or sax. The second number is a Fuller composed-blues called "Hugore," but Mobley occupies the spotlight, sounding better than ever.
The set strays from the totally straight-ahead only once, on the Oscar Pettiford-penned "Oscalypso," a medium-tempo, Latin-tinged selection that gets all of the players on the good foot. Fuller gives us one more opportunity to hear the trombone's solo potential on a ballad with the Johnny Mercer tune "Here's To My Lady," which also offers a nice showcase for Timmons. The rest of the program offers more terrific laid-back hard-bop, making one wish that Blue Note would pick up the pace in releasing Fuller's remaining three Blue Note titles, all currently out of print.
Personnel: Curtis Fuller: trombone; Hank Mobley: tenor saxophone; Bobby Timmons: piano; Paul Chambers: bass; Art Taylor: drums.