Vocal Champian

Champian Fulton came out of Oklahoma to become a vocalist/pianist with or without the blessing of her trumpeter/educator/father who had friends like the legendary Clark Terry [1920-2015] for whom she sang at his 75th birthday party when she was 10. Since then she’s been a New York City mainstay with Bud Powell and Erroll Garner as instrumental influences and Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington as vocal influences. Her quartet with Hide Tanaka on bass, Fukushi Tainaka on drums and Stephen Fulton on flugelhorn has lit up many a Manhattan night.

Her 10th album is a double-CD affair with her interpreting Oscar Peterson, Rodgers & Hart, Johnny Mercer, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Cedar Walton and Jerome Kern. Her voice is a little bit of heaven here on earth. Subservient to each song (as it should be), she takes lyrics and makes them all into one-act vignettes, believable, honest, imbued with a veracity that transcends the art of vocalese into a kind of personal communication that will resonate deep in your soul.


Credit – Carla Rae Brunault

New Boston Guy

Boston Singer-Songwriter Alex2E tells the kind of stories that resonate long after the music stops. His debut Half Grown EP has his effective vocals insinuating themselves into your brain like an ear worm, burrowing and scurrying through your pleasure receptacles in memorable fashion. He’ll perform in The Loft at City Winery on Varick Street in Manhattan on March 2. Catch him now before he explodes nationally.

First Great Jazz Album of 2019

Maximum Enjoyment by Something Blue takes six artists from the Posi-Tone Records stable who positively smoke on material handpicked (as was the band) by producer Marc Free from previous Posi-Tone albums. Each tune’s author wrote new charts specifically with this sextet in mind. And what a sextet it is! An all-star aggregation, all leaders of their own bands, Alexa Tarantino (alto sax/flute), Nick Finzer (trombone), Sam Dillon (tenor sax), Art Hirahara (piano), Boris Kozlov (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) get to mightily swing in post-bop mode. Free is following in the footsteps here of label owners/producers/auteurs like Manfred Eicher (ECM), Creed Taylor (Verve) and Bob Thiele (Flying Dutchman) as it’s his vision that these players have so mightily brought to life. Free’s muse is that ‘60s era ushered in by the album Kind Of Blue in 1959 by Miles Davis and added to by the Modern Jazz Quartet and Dave Brubeck. It’s more than just the cool school. It’s blue, man.

Tenor 101

This course in the history of the tenor sax is brought to you by Jorge Nila who plays like his tenor heroes. Of course, it helps to have such sterling cats as producer/guitarist Dave Stryker, organist Mitch Towne and drummer Dana Murray on hand to fulfill the vision of Tenor Time:  Tribute To The Tenor Masters (Ninjazz Records) where Dexter Gordon (“Fried Bananas”), Hank Mobley (“Soul Station”), John Coltrane (“On A Misty Night”), Wayne Shorter (“Infant Eyes”), Joe Henderson (“Inner Urge”), Sonny Rollins (“The Everywhere Calypso”) and Sonny Stitt (“The Eternal Triangle”) get their due. 

The Most Unusual Album In Years

In the ‘20s and ‘30s, no-drum string bands proliferated, an outgrowth of 19th Century fiddle/banjo duos. When guitar, mandolin and one-stringed gutbucket acoustic bass were added, rural whites throughout the south went hog-crazy for this sound (which morphed into jug-band music). Enter the premier African-American string band of today, The Ebony Hillbillies, from New York City, and their fifth album 5 Miles From Home (EH Music). This septet utilizes violin, banjo, mountain dulcimer, guitar, ancient percussion (bones, shaker and washboard) plus vocals to achieve a synthesis of folk, bluegrass, gospel, pop and roots Americana like no other band in the land. And since a large percentage of folk songs are historically political, the primitive sound here is belied by its progressive message.

After opening with a back-porch fiddle jam (“Hog Eyed Man”), they veer left on into the Chicago blues of Willie Dixon’s 1960 “Wang Dang Doodle.” Originals like “I’d Rather Be A Nigga Than A Po’ White Man” and “Another Man Done Gone/Hands Up Don’t Shoot” spare no expense in getting their points across. The cross-pollination of material — from Clarence Gill’s 1927 “Darling Corey” and the Baptist hymn “Where He Leads Me” to Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Prince’s “Cream” — is dizzyingly entertaining.  


Courtesy of Frank Roszak

Old-School Troubadour

It wasn’t until singer-songwriter Danny Lynn Wilson teamed up with producer/multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross that the songs of the former were made into the gems of the latter, giving them both Peace of Mind (SwingNation Records). These 13 originals bespeak an elegant — and eloquent — profundity.  Gross makes sure to accentuate Wilson’s understated vocals but surrounds those vocals with his own electric guitar, baritone guitar, banjo, mandolin, piano, Hammond B-3 organ, Wurlitzer, harmonium and percussion. He even sings on “High Water.” Word has it he swept out the studio too after each session and cleaned all the ashtrays. The different gradations of color as provided by bass, drums, resonator guitar, backing vocals, lap steel, tenor sax, bari sax and violin are also intricately sewn into this fabric. But make no mistake about it. It’s Wilson’s voice and lyrics that take center stage on material so personal, heartbreaking, profound and, ultimately, uplifting that it will be hard to forget such highlights as “Middle Class Blues,” “Fuss’n’Fight” and “Sympathy For Your Man.” Highly Recommended. 

Oh No! Not Another Version of “Stardust”!

Stomping Off From Greenwood (Greenleaf Music) by Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade has alto sax man Ward leading his new Chicago quintet on eight of his jazz-jam originals plus — oh no! — Hoagy Carmichael’s 1927 beat-to-death chestnut “Stardust.” Can this song finally be retired? (To Ward’s credit, he does the Heimlich Maneuver on the song to breathe new life into its rotting carcass.)

Ward received plenty of kudos for his impressive 2016 Touch My Beloved’s Thought debut where he reimagined the music of Charles Mingus. Here, he fulfills that promise. The band is exceptional, having honed its chops at a month-long residency at a Windy City club, and then a series a Midwestern gigs, all before stepping into the studio. Ward’s alto fronts a two-guitar self-produced party plus drum’n’bass. Half acoustic and half electronic (both guitarists are ace in their various effects), highlights include the 11:08 “Pitch Black Promenade” and the 8:07 “Black Woods.” Heady stuff, for sure!