Champian Fulton: Birdsong

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Champian Fulton


October 3, 2020

Reviewed by John Hoglund

Champian Fulton grew up loving Charlie Parker, one of the most influential jazz figures of the past 100 years. An alto sax virtuoso, he brought revolutionary harmonic innovations into jazz performances. These included fast-paced chord changes, altered chords, and chordal substitutions. A prodigy, he was known for plating passages that were both clean and somber. It’s necessary to understand “Bird” (as he was known) to fully appreciate the artistry of Champian Fulton and the musicianship heard on this album. Though her name stands above the title on this exceptional album, clearly, Birdsong is an example of fluid ensemble work for true jazz aficionados. Its core contributors—bassist Hide Tanaka, Fukushi Tainaka on drums, Stephen Fulton on flugelhorn, and Scott Hamilton on tenor sax—demonstrate high-caliber finesse abetted by Fulton’s swinging piano and stellar vocal interpretations which make this 11-song CD a stand-out. It also pays tribute to Bird’s timeless work in a manner that is beautifully conceived.

In lesser hands, a mostly vocal album of Bird’s material might prove too risky. Not so here. Critically acclaimed throughout the jazz world and a longtime resident at Manhattan’s Birdland, Fulton is at the top of her game with this lovingly assembled tribute to the legendary Parker. With her extensive performance background and being rooted in the world of jazz early on (well-known horn player Stephen Fulton is her father) and an output of many highly praised albums, Champian has secured her place as a first-rate stylist who can seduce listeners and swing her brand of personalized jazz entries She is in a league with some of the best performers from the golden age of jazz.

From the opening notes of “Just Friends” (John Klenner/Sam M. Lewis), she gets to the heart of the song and later, aided by some haunting refrains from Stephen Fulton’s moaning horn, makes this cut a memorable standout. With the sultry “This Is Always” (Harry Warren/Mack Gordon) she is wistfully seductive in a manner that recalls the playfulness of Blossom Dearie in her early years. Scott Hamilton’s tenor sax mesmerizes along with her kittenish keys, making for another memorable track. Charlie Parker’s impulsive “Quasimodo” showcases the quartet in a dazzling display of hot musicianship that is hard to top. Following Fulton’s quixotic lead on piano, it is a tour de force that builds to an impulsive musical climax worthy of the legend himself. “Dearly Beloved” (Johnny Mercer/Jerome Kern) is given a sexy treatment that smolders. On a swinging “If I Should Lose You” (Ralph Rainger/Leo Robin), the listener is transported to the swing era. With alternating instrumental passages and Birdsong‘s driving piano offers a mix of modern and classic jazz fusion at the highest level. Parker’s “Bluebird” is given a melodic heart that overflows with instrumental flourishes that shows what true jazz is all about.

Champian Fulton has found ingenious musical ways to honor Charlie Parker through her art and along with some flawless musicians (a well-deserved shout-out goes to driving bassist Hide Tanaka). She has been called a supreme stylist and interpreter. The album has made it to several “best” lists. That says it all. The disc is a real find. Ms. Fulton is a classic jazz artist worthy of her many accolades.
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John Hoglund

For over 30 years, John Hoglund has been a respected entertainment writer covering cabaret, jazz, theater and recordings. His writings have appeared in numerous outlets including the Bistro Bits column for Back Stage. John moderated seminars and forums for the International Cabaret Conference At Yale. He produced many celebrity fundraisers in NYC including one of the first benefits after 9/11: “HeartSong:The Heroes' Concert” at The Bottom Line featuring 36 major stars. He co-produced “HeartSong2: The Heroes' Concert” for Katrina victims at Symphony Space and “Miracle On 35th Street” with a star-studded lineup. Other fund raising efforts include the first benefits for Broadway Cares and God's Love, We Deliver. John served on the Board of Directors of MAC for 12 years. He is well known for championing new and rising talents.