Friday, November 4, 2011

Curtis Fuller: The Story of Cathy & Me

Challenge Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: The Story of Cathy & Me

Trombonist Curtis Fuller — born in 1934, and still alive and swinging — has played with many of the jazz icons from the 1950s onward. Cathy, his beloved wife for almost 30 years, died in 2010. This album, a poignant love story set to music, covers their life together. Each song relates chronologically to events that were special to their union.

Fuller also includes four short spoken interludes. The first covers his years prior to their meeting; the second concerns their children; the third relates to the discovery of Cathy’s lung cancer; the last summarizes his wishes for Cathy and their friends. The titles of the 14 surrounding tunes perfectly describe the phases of their lives together.

Fuller is a great musician, still in heavy demand. His career began in a unit with Paul Chambers and Donald Byrd; after two years in the army, he played with Cannonball Adderley, Yusef Lateef, Miles Davis, Sonny Clark and John Coltrane. Fuller also was a member of the Art Farmer/Benny Golson Quartet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, then joined bands headed by Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie. Fuller has toured the world, and currently is on staff at New York State Summer School of the Arts and the School of Jazz Studies.

Fuller utilized 10 of his closest musician friends as backup here. His trombone is augmented by Lester Walker (trumpet), Daniel Bauerkemper and Akeem Marable (tenor sax), Nick Rosen and Kenny Banks Jr. (piano), Henry Conerway III and Clarence Levy (drums/percussion); Brandy Brewer and Kevin Smith (bass); and Tia Michelle Rouse (vocals).

A painter or poet creating a work of art in memoriam would do the best possible job, and Fuller is no exception. This occasion itself is sad, but if the tune relates to happiness, so does the performance.

Fuller is up there in years, but his heart and soul are evident in his playing. Ignore the interludes and sorrow inherent in this album’s creation — if you must — but do concentrate on the quality of the music. It’s superb.

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