Raised by a dad that was a jazz trumpeter (he was friends with Clark Terry, even) Champian Fulton grew up listening to the greats. There’s Dinah Washington in her voice and Wynton Kelly is one of the pianists she has drawn from – but it’s the rollcall of the greats: Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole, Tatum and Monk and of course Charlie Parker.
In fact the gorgeous Charlie Parker With Strings is apparently the first album she ever heard; cued up by her father for her exact entrance into this world.
Since a childhood of absorbing jazz Fulton has build a following as bandleader of small combos, as vocalist and pianist, shaping standards and her own material across a dozen records.
For this, her latest, as the title hints it’s all Charlie Parker. These are the songs in her soul.
She’s a dab hand on the keys – and a couple of the pieces here are purely instrumental – but most of the material features a soulful vocal too. Her voice the right kind of breathy, but when it is just the band’s colours and flavours you get to hear a wonderful rhythm section, lithe and full of expressive ideas. Bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka are all over All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm, but never in the way of Fulton’s scurrying piano which is very Art Tatum-like here.
And for Quasimodo – a nice wee mid-tempo stroll through the song-shape and exact chords of Embraceable You we get a lovely, loping ride-cymbal pulse from Tainaka and perfect supporting play from Tanaka; again Fulton’s out in front with Bud Powell in her mind and even a little Nina Simone in her heart.
Veteran tenor sax man, Scott Hamilton is the other star on this show – his warm, breezy sound touching on the work of Parker, tracing around it without ever aiming to be it (Yardbird Suite). In fact his tone and touch is more similar to the great Dick Oatts. Fulton’s father, Stephen, is there on a handful of cuts too.
It’s just a lovely album – so perfectly played and produced. Not a note out of place and yet never sounding ‘too clean’. Opener, Just Friends, really sets the tone – a calm and simple waltz riding on a terrific vocal, and then, suddenly, subtly, the musical tone shifts to 4/4, the brushes are discarded for sticks, the piano starts in on a great bit of blues vamping; the band all alone for the ride. Check this out if you’re at all interested in Parker, vocal jazz or finding great new talent.
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