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Curtis Fuller

Four Classic Albums

AVID JAZZ AMSC1326 [76:00 + 75:35]




1-6: The Opener
1. A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening
2. Hugore
3. Oscalypso
4. Here’s My Lady
5. Lizzy’s Bounce
6. Soon

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Hank Mobley (tenor sax)

Bobby Timmons (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Art Taylor (drums)

Rec. Hackensack (N.J.), June 16 1957.
7-11: New Trombone

7. Vonce # 5
8. Transportation Blues
9. Blue Lawson
10. Namely You
11. What Is This Thing Called Love?

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Sonny Red Kyner (alto sax),

Hank Jones (piano), Doug Watkins (bass), Louis Hayes (drums)

Rec. Hackensack (N.J.), May 11, 1957.

1-6: Blues-ette
1. Five Spot After Dark
2. Undecided
3. Blues-ette
4. Minor Vamp
5. Love Your Spell Is Everywhere
6. Twelve-Inch

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Benny Golson (tenor sax),

Tommy Flanagn (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass), Al Harewood (drums)

Rec. New York City, May 21 1959
7-12: Soul Trombone
7. The Clan
8. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning
9. Newdies
10. The Breeze And I
11. Dear Old Stockholm
12. Ladies Night

Curtis Fuller (trombone), Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Jimmy Heath (tenor sax),

Cedar Walton (piano), Jymie Merritt (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums, except track 11)

G.T. Hogan (drums, track 11)

Rec New York City, November 15-17 1961

In the 1960 survey Jazz on Record (Charles Fox, Peter Gammond et al.) there is only a single mention of Curtis Fuller. It occurs in the course of a discussion of a 1957 Blue Note recording by Bud Powell – Bud! The Amazing Bud Powell, Volume 3 – It reads, in full, “Unfortunately the second side of this LP has the addition of the Jay Jay Johnson imitator, Curtis Fuller, who although an adequate trombonist, is not in the same street as Powell, so far as invention is concerned”.

In the following years, appreciation of Fuller gradually became more generous. Johnson (b.1924) had effectively created the bop language on trombone and unless they were committed to a pre-bop style of jazz it would have been remarkable if any trombonists younger than Johnson had escaped his influence. Certainly Fuller (b. 1934) didn’t. But I don’t believe that any listener paying careful attention to recordings by Johnson and Fuller would confuse the two. By the time of Jazz: The Essential Companion (1988, Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, Brian Priestley) attitudes had changed. In that book Priestley writes “Fuller has a style which exploits the technical discoveries of J.J. Johnson but in a more subdued manner. His phrasing is sometimes clipped and repetitive at up-tempo, but with slower vehicles his melodic approach is very distinctive”.

Priestley’s judgement sums up very well Fuller’s work on this Avid set which reissues four of Fuller’s early recordings. Fuller would go on to produce more varied and more sophisticated music after the years (1957-1961) in which these albums were recorded. But these early recordings are not to be sniffed at. They make for consistently pleasant and interesting listening, even if they are neither startlingly original or especially ‘profound’. The Opener (one of Fuller’s very first recordings as a leader) contains several highlights. On the very first track, ‘A Lovely Way To Spend an Evening’, Fuller shows off the melodic sense spoken of by Priestley with some lovely velvet-toned playing (and there are good solos by Timmons and Chambers too). On ‘Hugore’, a blues by Fuller, Hank Mobley plays a characteristically oblique solo and Fuller contributes some warmly expressive work. In Oscar Pettiford’s ‘Oscalypso’ there is some very interesting interplay between Fuller and Mobley and Art Taylor gets the chance to demonstrate his unflashy skills. ‘Lizzy’s Bounce’, another Fuller tune, swings hard and elicits pleasing solos from the leader and Mobley (especially), as well as from Chambers and Timmons.

Incidentally, in the liner note to the initial LP issue of The Opener – reproduced, as usual, by Avid) – Robert Levin tells us that at the end of that 1957 session with Powell, on which Jazz on Record found Fuller to be no more than “an adequate trombonist”, lacking in invention, Bud Powell himself (who had no previous knowledge of Fuller) commented simply “Man, that cat can blow!”.

On New Trombone Fuller is joined in the front-line by Sonny Red Kyner, always a somewhat eccentric altoist. There’s an intensity (and a degree of wildness) in Kyner’s playing, which makes effective contrast with Fuller’s altogether neater manner. This isn’t by any means an especially remarkable album, but its bop/hard bop mixture of blues (notably ‘Transportation Blues’ and ‘Blue Lawson’ – both by Fuller) and ballads (‘Namely You’ and ‘What Is this Thing Called Love?’) should be of interest to anyone with a fondness for 1950s jazz.

Blues-ette is the finest of these four albums. The original liner notes by H. Alan Stein suggest that a “major influence” on the album was that of Benny Golson. Certainly, the fusion of well thought- out arrangements which leave room for individual expression/improvisation is akin to what one hears more often on albums led by Golson than on those under the leadership of Fuller. There’s a relaxed air to the whole thing, a sense of mutual comfort between/amongst the members of the quintet. The album is far from being the kind of blowing session served up on so many recordings of the period. There’s an audible affinity between Fuller and Golson – with the advantage of hindsight one can detect here some of the seeds of the music later produced by the Benny Golson-Art Farmer Jazztet (of which Fuller was an important member). The writing throughout (there are two compositions by Fuller, the title-track and ‘Twelve-Inch’, and one by Golson, ‘Five Spot After Dark’, is thoughtfully constructed and offers inviting possibilities for the soloists. The rhythm section plays quite beautifully, even if its does so in a more restrained fashion than was often the case at the time (Al Harewood is no Art Blakey!). Tommy Flanagan’s work is exemplary, not only in his own solos, but also – and perhaps even more so – in the ways he supports and stimulates the solos played by the rest of the group. It is worth noting that in January 1993 a Curtis Fuller Quintet gathered to record, a kind of sequel, Blues-ette Part 2 (the only change in personnel being enforced, with Ray Drummond replacing Jimmy Garrison, who had died in 1976). Several of the same tunes were reprised – interesting comparisons might be made between Blues-ette and Blues-ette Part 2, though this is not the place to make them. I, at least, prefer the original recording, as reissued here. It is perhaps the nearest Fuller came, certainly at this early stage of his career, to leading a truly ‘classic’ album – one, that is, which ought to be part of any self-respecting collection of modern jazz.

I wouldn’t quite say the same of Soul Trombone, the fourth album reissued here – one with which I was previously unfamiliar; but it is a rewarding listen. Some tracks, such as the opener, ‘The Clan’, are fairly conventional hard bop (much more so than anything on Blues-ette), reminding us that Fuller worked with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers between 1961 and 1964, along with Hubbard, Walton and Merritt. On the other hand, a piece like ‘Newdies’ moves almost like something from the swing era. There are also times when the group registers the more advanced kinds of harmonic language being developed by several players, most notably Bill Evans and John Coltrane, around the time this album was recorded in 1961. The solo playing of the horns (notably Hubbard) and of Cedar Walton is at a consistently high level. This is well-worth getting to know – for me it was a pleasing discovery.

All-in-all this is an attractive and useful reissue package – and will surely disabuse anyone (if there is anyone) who still thinks of Fuller as merely a J.J. Johnson “imitator”. Fuller was heavily recorded during the period spanned by these four albums. New Trombone (1957) was his second recording as a leader; Soul Trombone (1961) was, amazingly, his eighteenth! This sampling on Avid gives one the opportunity to hear the rapid maturation and individuation of Fuller’s playing.

Glyn Pursglove


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