Jazz CD Reviews

Tia Fuller – Decisive Steps – Mack Avenue

On Tia Fuller’s third outing, Decisive Steps, the saxophonist/flutist evolves her artistry upward and outward.

Published on March 29, 2010

Tia Fuller – Decisive Steps – Mack Avenue

Tia Fuller – Decisive Steps – Mack Avenue MAC 1043, 55:43 ***1/2:

(Tia Fuller – alto & soprano saxophone, flute; Shamie Royston – piano, Fender Rhodes; Miriam Sullivan – acoustic bass; Kim Thompson – drums; Sean Jones – trumpet (tracks 2, 3, 5), flugelhorn (track 9); Christian McBride – electric bass (track 3), acoustic bass (tracks 4, 7); Warren Wolf – vibraphone (tracks 4, 7, 8); Maurice Chestnut – tap dancer (track 6))

Tia Fuller has gone from post-bop to Beyoncé, and with Decisive Steps, her third solo release and second album for the Mack Avenue label, she once again returns to the post-bop and soulful jazz arena. The alto and soprano saxophonist/flutist definitively moves forward on the 55-minute outing, presenting material that evolves and elevates her compositional talents, her performance skills and her natural leadership role.

Fuller may be best known as the touring saxophonist for pop diva Beyoncé. But Fuller’s jazz creditability is top notch. She is a studious and serious jazz artist who layers blues, funk, gospel and r’n’b into her music, resulting in accessible and always swinging mainstream jazz. Fuller gets great support from a core quartet which includes her sister Shamie Royston on keys, drummer Kim Thompson (another Beyoncé alum who has recorded with Kenny Barron and Mike Stern) and acoustic bassist Miriam Sullivan, who has worked in the Rachel Z Trio. Fellow Mack Avenue artists Sean Jones (trumpet/flugelhorn) and bassist Christian McBride, as well as vibes player Warren Wolf and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut, also contribute to selected cuts.

The foursome kicks off with the intricate post-bop title track (one of six pieces penned by Fuller), which proceeds with abandon, clarity and momentum. Fuller supplies high caliber soprano sax, Royston provides both rhythmic punch and arrayed harmonic soloing and Sullivan and Thompson keep the beat solid and boisterous. Jones showcases his meditative Miles Davis-inspired trumpet on Royston’s “Windsoar,” the longest track, which has a supple arrangement with many tempo changes and galvanizing ensemble repartee that involves strong Fuller soloing. The only blemish is Thompson’s sporadically stormy drumming, which at times is too aggressive. Jones shifts to flugelhorn on the quietly funky “Ebb & Flow,” which is also notable for McBride’s lithe electric bass and Thompson’s rhythmic stride that gives the tune a spirited affectation.

McBride’s influence is felt throughout Fuller’s “Shades of McBride,” an inventive interpretation of McBride’s “Shade of the Cedar Tree,” where Fuller magnifies McBride’s melody and uses different chord changes. The reworked composition has a light bossa nova feel due in part to Wolf’s vibrant vibes performance while McBride’s acoustic bass solo is unfailingly compelling. The centerpiece, though, is a rendition of “I Can’t Get Started,” which begins with a graceful sax passage, followed by McBride’s refined acoustic bass solo and more of Wolf’s luminous vibraphone.

A few stumbles keep this endeavor from being stellar. The 30-second collaboration with dancer Chestnut comes across as an uncertain experiment. And Thompson’s hard-hitting drums are sometimes overbearing. But overall, Fuller has surrounded herself with a remarkable unit that collaborates with and advances her vision and in the process has crafted engaging, entertaining and consistently creative material. Fuller asserts she wanted to make uplifting music that interconnects people, spirituality and several genres. With Decisive Steps she has fulfilled her mission.

In a nod to the digital download generation, Fuller furnishes a vocal bonus track, “Life Brings,” which is only available online and which she states was the kernel that helped her expand her project into a full ten-track undertaking.

TrackList:
1. Decisive Steps
2. Windsoar
3. Ebb & Flow
4. I Can’t Get Started
5. Kissed by the Sun
6. Steppin’
7. Shades of McBride
8. Clear Mind
9. Night Glow
10. My Shining Hour

– Doug Simpson




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