From the very first notes, it's obvious that Curtis Fuller
's The Opener
is something completely different.
Yes, it's bop. Yes, it features the usual lineup of two horns, piano, bass and drums. And yes, one of those horns is saxman Hank Mobley
, who, by law, was required to appear on every single Blue Note album in the 1950s and '60s. (Or maybe it only seems that way.)
But waitwhat's going on with those four opening notes? They're soft and slow. This isn't hard bop at all. This must be... yes, it's a ballad! And waitthat horn doesn't sound like a trumpet or a saxophone. It sounds like... yes, it's a trombone! It's a trombone playing a ballad. And it's the very first song of the album.
OK, I kid. But truly, this is something foreign to the 1950s Blue Note playbook. The number of 1950s Blue Note bandleaders playing trombone can be counted on one handmaybe even two fingers. And your typical Blue Note album from this period almost always opened with a wham-bam powerful hard bop tune.
So The Opener
a 1957 date led by trombonist Curtis Fuller
breaks the rules in more ways than one. And it's a very welcome change of pace.
The album has six songs. Two are sweet ballads, including the opening cut, one is a slow blues, one is a Latin number with a complex, intriguing rhythm, and only the last two are standard hard bop pieces. It's not exactly your father's Blue Note.
Granted, the band is familiar. Other than Fuller, leading his first session, the players include Mobley, Bobby Timmons
on piano, Paul Chambers
on bass and Art Taylor
on drums. And even Fuller, a relative newcomer in 1957, is not entirely fresh. He played with John Coltrane
on the classic Blue Train
that same year, and went on to become a regular with Art Blakey
and the Jazz Messengers.
By far, the most interesting tune on The Opener
is a number called "Oscarlypso," penned by Oscar Pettiford
. It's a 5-minute piece that featurespardon the Gershwin puna fascinating rhythm, with drums and bass setting odd patterns, and the horns laying down cool grooves. It's far outside the usual Blue Note thing.
The two balladsthe opener, "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," and Johnny Mercer
's "Here's to My Lady"are superb. Clearly Blue Note was trying to establish Fuller as a sentimental alternative to J.J. Johnson
. It works. The ballads, plus the slow blues of the second track, a Fuller original called "Hugore," make this a relaxing record indeedat least half the record, anyway.
Finally, the album closes with two routine bop numbers: Another Fuller original, "Lizzy's Bounce," and the Gershwin standard "Soon." Nice numbers, though not anything special. The Opener
is a good introduction to Curtis Fuller, who went on to a long, productive career. It's an atypical Blue Note record, but a worthwhile addition to any jazz collection.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Availability: Plenty of copies available
Cost: Just $5 used, and not much more new