Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Curtis Fuller: The Second Agent of Trombone

Curtis Fuller (trombone; b. 1934)

While many trombonists owe their skill to J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding, only a few have carved out their own distinct identity on this massive but beautiful instrument. Curtis Fuller in my opinion would be the other benchmark to which all other trombone players have to live up to. Born in Detroit, Curtis Fuller has performed with such legends as Benny Golson, Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer and more recently with Mulgrew Miller, Eric Alexander and Doug Carn.

If you own John Coltrane's Blue Train then you've heard Curtis Fuller. The opening bars of "Blue Train" are as iconic as the openings to Miles Davis' "So What" on Kind Of Blue and Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" on Time Out. It grabs your attention and doesn't let go.

Curtis' own material may not be as iconic but it is certainly of the highest order. He is always adventurous and pours every ounce of his lungs into every note. As with J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller could almost make the trombone feel like a saxophone. Allot of Curtis' recordings are hard to find at the moment but if you come across his Blue Note Records debut entitled The Opener (He recorded for Prestige before this) I would suggest this picking this up. If you can't find The Opener, his most recent releases Up Jumped Spring (Delmark) and Keep It Simple (Savant) are both excellent albums. He had just come out of a pretty silent period where he hadn't recorded in awhile but he sounds like he had never left the scene.

If you really have the money I highly, highly, highly recommend the excellent Complete Savoy Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz). The Complete Savoy Recordings is a three disc set covering all five albums Curtis Fuller recorded for the label including the classic Blues-ette which features the legendary Benny Golson (sax), Tommy Flanagan (piano) and Jimmy Garrison (bass). These quintessential recordings that rate right up there with best material from J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding. It's an expensive import but well worth the money.

At 75, Curtis still tours and continues to be in fine form. Always worth the price of admission; if you see his name in the listings, make a reservation immediately. There are so few legends left on the scene that if you want to see jazz performed at its highest level you must invest in a Curtis Fuller album or a concert when you get the chance.

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