Curtis Fuller is back and ready to swing! The same sextet that slayed the 2010 Capri release I Will Tell Her As Well not to forget tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman's Dues In Progress from 2006 is locked, loaded and ready for action. Fuller has gone so far as to compare tenor sax man Oxman to the great John Coltrane who was Fuller's best friend in the 50's and early 60's so you know this sextet means business.
Down Home boasts six originals by Fuller, one by Oxman, two by pianist Chip Stephens and a rare version of "Then I'll Be Tired Of You" featuring Oxman on tenor. Critics are all ready calling this arguably one of Fuller's finest releases and with such a formidable ensemble that has the ability to comp and solo while playing to Fuller's lyrical strengths there is little wiggle room here but to perhaps agree with such a critical distinction. Fuller was a mere 22 year old phenom and the trombone voice on John Coltrane's legendary Blue Train recording and now at 77 it would seem Fuller is the same humble and if you will Down Home person he has been all his life especially after recording and touring with the very best names jazz has to offer. Band members from this session have said Fuller believes in the importance of the ensemble hanging out together and it is this social interaction that can find its way to the bandstand and aid in the blending of the individual sounds.
The title tune Down Home features a horn trio as tight as they come without every losing that trademark lyrical swing associated with Fuller. Swing is indeed king here with trumpet player Al Hood raising the roof with the unabashed joy of a musician truly in love with what they do. Oxman lives up to the Coltrane hype and indeed swings like a beast. The rhythm section keeping everyone in check is made up of Chip Stephens on piano, Ken Walker on bass and Todd Reid on drums. Fuller's lyrical voice is in fine form punctuated with a pop of vitality players 30 years his junior are still searching for. Stephens turns in a delightful solo making this a tune that you hear with your feet for if not then you may be waiting on your autopsy report to come back. "C Hip's Blues" is a syncopated mid tempo blues with a deceptively subtle swing. Curtis Fuller kicks off the soloing and with a lyrical sense of purpose but never losing that innate sense of swing that permeates this stellar release. Oxman is a perfect compliment to Fuller. The yin to Fuller's yang embraces the zen like less is more as the band settles into a groove you can use. A masterclass for those still confused as to the difference between swing and groove and just what the correct presentation may entail. Fuller has the ability to push the younger players past that point of sonic no return where one begins playing from the soul and simply lets go. Not one to hang out in odd meter or attempt to play from the speed is king mentality, Fuller simply does not have to with an artistic pedigree few can match. "Nu Groove" is yet another rhythmic feast that hits on both the visceral and cerebral levels. A harmonically adventurous tune while never straying into the land of the self indulgent, Fuller does what he does best - swing! It is however the type of blues infused harmonic exploratory that adds to the captivating ebb and flow of a first rate release.
Time can be cruel but Curtis Fuller seems to embrace all the wonderful experiences not to mention the incomparable music he continues to add to a most impressive discography. This is old school pure and simple. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Fuller plays it straight or perhaps I should say straight ahead and never sounded better!
Tracks: Down Home; Ladies Night; C Hip's Blues; Sadness and Soul; Nu Groove; Then I'll Be Tired Of You; Mr. L; Sweetness; Jonli Bercosta; The High Priest.
Personnel: Curtis Fuller: trombone; Keith Oxman: tenor saxophone; Al Hood: trumpet, flugelhorn; Chip Stephens: piano; Ken Walker: bass; Todd Reid: drums.