|Photo: Antonio Narvaez|
To the left is a photo of pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton
in her natural habitat; that is, playing her infectious, swinging, life-affirming brand of popular music to a happy crowd. The Oklahoma-born Fulton has been recording since 2007. She prefers the Trio setting (can't blame her––she's a fine pianist) although she often adds her flugelhorn playing Father, Stephen Fulton, to the group. She's issued 14 albums, many on her own label but also several for Cellar Live and one for Posi-Tone. Over her career, her vocal style has blossomed so one hear a bit of Ella, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington.
Her new album, "Meet Me at Birdland
" (self-released), has just been issued. The 13-song, 70-minute, experience features Ms. Fulton with her New York trio, bassist Hide Tanaka
and drummer (brushes-man extraordinaire) Fukushi Tainaka
. This is one tight ensemble and the pianist's chops are on display throughout. Instrumentals such as "Theme for Basie
" and the rip-roaring "Happy Camper
" give the group room to stretch out while Ms. Fulton's vocals on "Just Friends
" and "I've Got a Crush on You
" makes one feel like she is singing just for you. Even the oft-recorded "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most
" sounds fresh and alive.
"Meet Me at Birdland" closes with "It's Been a Long, Long, Time"––voice and piano, no rhythm section, and this bluesy take is a treat. One gets the feeling if Champian Fulton lived in the time of the Harlem "Rent Parties", she'd be living in the penthouse. This collection will most certainly brighten your life.
Listen to the Trio dig into "Theme for Basie":
Like your guitar music electric and loud? Or do you like is electric and sensitive? "The Great Mirage" (ASG Recordings) pairs Joel Harrison and Anthony Pirog with the rhythm section of Allison Miller (drums) and Stephan Crump (electric bass) and the results are fascinating. All four players have excellent jazz chops but here they turn their attention to music that could be best described as "Prog Rock meets Electric Fusion". There are moments, such as on the album opening title track and on "Mortgage on My Soul" (composed by Keith Jarrett) that try men's speakers with both guitarists displaying chops that would impress fans of Jeff Beck and Steve Vai. Yet, on "There's Never Enough Time" and "Desert Solitaire", there are moments of beauty and emotional depth.
One should not downplay the work of Ms. Miller and Mr. Crump. On the uptempo pieces, they set the pace – the funky rhythms on "East Hurley
" rub against the wailing guitars so nicely. Listen to how gently they keep the pace flowing on Harrison's heartfelt "I'll See You in the Shining World
". This particular tune is one whose melody sticks to your soul.
Pirog and Harrison turn acoustic on the 75-second "Last Rose of Summer" with one of them playing dobro. Despite its brevity, the piece stands out.
The album closes with two powerful tracks. First, "Clarksdale" has a hard-edge tempered by the addition of Bruce Katz on the Hammond B-3 organ. Pirog's wailing solo pushes off the rhythm section while Harrison's ringing chords keep the structure. That leads to the rocking "Buffalo Heart"–composed by Harrison, the roaring piece sounds like an homage to Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The guitars roar at each other from thew corners of the stereo mix while the bass and drums throb and thrash in-between them.
"The Great Mirage" is, in some ways, one of those "turn it up to 10" recordings, with piercing guitars that can cleanse one's soul. To the credit of Joel Harrison and Anthony Pirog, these songs have really strong and, for a good number, engrossing melodies. Yes, it's loud, yes, it's mostly electric, but this music also has emotional power and maturity, not just a endless of loop of flashy solos.
Here's the title track: