One would be hard pressed to find an instrument less suited to jazz than the French horn. Firmly rooted in classical music and played sitting down, the French horn seems almost to resist being pulled from the orchestra pit. Of course, this didn't stop people from using it. The wide experimentation of the forties and fifties brought several new instruments to the jazz spectrum; as a result, the French horn gained a few advocates along the way. Mostly, though, this was in larger group settings; very few souls were daring enough to suggest that it could be used in a smaller context. Fuller and Hawes were not only willing to try, but to make the focus of the session.
If nothing else, Fuller and Hawes achieve the distinction of leading the only small group to ever feature two French horns in the front line. Just from this fact alone, you can expect to hear something a little different. The three brass instruments are similar enough that they blend quite nicely and, in some cases, are almost indistinguishable from one another. Shihab's alto provides a necessary balance to what would otherwise be a somewhat murky front line; his brittle lines add variety while cutting through the chocolate tones of the other three.
As far as the songs themselves go, Fuller is up to his usual bop trickery and Hawes pounds away skillfully as well. The French horn, however, is not well suited to this type of music and lacks the force to pull off a solo without sounding a little feeble next to the other two. Two French horn solos also gets a bit repetitive. Better is the somber choreography of "A-Drift" and "Five Spot" which sounds a bit like early Mingus; here the horns add rich colorings without having to navigate the changes.
Like any album that wears its eccentricities on its sleeve, this one is not without its flaws but is certainly unique and enjoyable when it works. Both Fuller and Hawes's body of work are well served by this reissue.
Ronnie's Tune, Roc and Troll, A-Drift, Five Spot, Lyriste, No Crooks.
Curtis Fuller, trombone; Sahib Shihab, alto sax; Julius Watkins and David Amram, French horns; Hampton Hawes, piano; Addison Farmer, bass; Jerry Segal, drums.
All About Jazz & Jazz Near You were built to promote jazz music: both recorded albums and live events. We rely primarily on venues, festivals and musicians to promote their events through our platform. With club closures, limited reopenings and an uncertain future, we've pivoted our platform to collect, promote and broadcast livestream concerts to support our jazz musician friends. This is a significant but neccesary step that will help musicians and venues now, and in the future. You can help offset the cost of this essential undertaking by making a donation today. In return, we'll deliver an ad-free experience (which includes hiding the sticky footer ad). Thank you!
Get more of a good thing
Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories and includes your local jazz events calendar.