A Dynamic, Intimate Live Album and a Birdland Gig From Jazz Piano and Vocal Siren Champian Fulton
At this point in jazz history, Champian Fulton is the best piano-playing singer and the best pianist who happens to be a singer. With her blend of precision and flair on the keys and her nuanced approach to the mic, she’s been unstoppable lately. Her career validates the old proverb that you get good at what you do: somehow, in between gigs, she manages to find the time to make albums. And she likes to flip the script: she’s done everything from reinventing Dinah Washington – a major influence – to a devious all-instrumental piano trio record, and now her latest release, Dream a Little, an intimate but often fiery live set with saxophonist Cory Weeds. The new record, a mix of standards, a couple of rarities and an original is streaming at Bandcamp. Fulton’s next New York gig is a two-night stand at Birdland on Oct 30-31, with sets at 7 and 10 PM; you can get in for $20.
Weeds opens the first track, Dream a Little Dream, with a balmy solo before Fulton’s piano brings in some James P. Johnson gravitas, a contrast that lingers through an unexpectedly restrained, even suspenseful take of a song that Mama Cass Elliott made epic drama out of.
Weeds does the flying – gently – in Fly Me to the Moon, the two folllowing the same dynamic, both Fulton’s piano and voice infused with calm take-charge attitude. Strap on that seat belt, buster!
By contrast, Lullaby For Art is a starkly pulsing, latin-tinged instrumental theme with bitingly bluesy solos from both musicians. Fulton’s clenched-teeth intensity before the third verse is one of the album’s most stunning moments.
The duo’s take of Darn That Dream has a wistful, expansive solo first verse from Fulton, Weeds fluttering among the clouds, a dynamic they mirror with a steady, subtly stride-influenced version of Pennies From Heaven. Then they pick up the pace with Once I Had a Secret Love, Weeds’ precise chromatic volleys setting the tone.
Fulton’s slowly swaying interpretation of I Thought About You leaves no doubt that it’s about being haunted by a memory. As he does throughout the record, Weeds plays tersely, developing melodic themes rather than blowing endless, too-cool-for-school practice patterns like too many other reed players do.
The two make low-key, striding swing out of Tangerine: Fulton likes to use her low lefthand a lot, and that device works particularly well here, grounding Weeds’ cheery lines. I’d Give a Dollar For a Dime – Joe Williams’ 1930 shout-out to what seemed already had become jukebox nostalgia – dips and weaves with a dreamy charm. They close the record with a coy jump blues take based on Eddie Lockjaw Davis’ version of Save Your Love For Me
While this is first and foremost a collection of bittersweet love ballads, it’s also uproariously funny when least expected: Fulton has a subtle and often sly sense of humor, particularly on the keys. As if we need yet more proof that more artists should be making live records, this is it.