Theo Croker's The Fundamentals is a meticulous record. In the liner notes, the 21-year-old grandson of Doc Cheatham, who composed and arranged every song, describes many of the tunes in technical terms. This attention to detailand perhaps also a need for the listener to understand the songs on levels both technical and non-technicalallows the record to be intricate without being cryptic.
"Interlude One," which serves as the bass line for "The Fundamentals," is strangely compelling. Though the tune is basically a progression of overdubbed trumpet notes, it is Croker's sly and elegant nature that makes the tune sound bolder than it really is. "The Fundamentals" grounds itself in that irresistible interlude and conveys the "theme of life and purpose" with its upbeat tempo and expressive solos. Trombonist Andre Murchison solos in a manner almost as scrupulous as Croker's liner notes and pianist Sullivan Fortner plays with a lilt that is both playful and earnest.
"The Middle Passage," which refers to the 18th Century triangular slave trade, is another compositional gem. Bassist Chris Mees embodies the agony, strength and spirit of the blues and Fortner portrays the slaves' fear and cunning in his light touch and mellifluous notes. As a composer, Croker is at his best here, capturing the rawness of the blues.
At the conclusion of this disc, Croker shows his playful side in "Left Sided," which is, apparently, "about being on the left side of things." The message is simplemake your own pathand throughout the sextet have taken it to heart. Croker lets loose, becoming less meticulous and more lighthearted and drummer Ulysses Owens plays a simmering solo that threatens to boil over toward the end of the tune. The song seems fitting to end a recording that, despite being carefully composed and earnestly performed, has always been on the left side of things.
Interlude One; Focus; Interlude Two; The Middle Passage; With You; The Fundamentals; Blooze; Falling; Interlude Three; Left Sided.
Theo Croker: trumpet; Stantwan Kendrick: alto saxophone; Andre Murchison: trombone; Sullivan Fortner: piano; Chris Mees: bass; Ulysses "Bim" Owens: drums.
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