Here at 1320Radio, we instinctively know when something is right. We are pleased, therefore, to report that American jazz pianist and chanteuse Champian Fulton has made the correct decision to release Speechless, an album that showcases her skills as a composer of piano instrumentals.
If you are not already familiar with her work then you have missed out on one of the most agreeable personalities in jazz today. Fulton is fond of retro-chic in terms of presentation, and she places good old-fashioned melody at the heart of her performances. She is, nevertheless, a very contemporary artist who matches flair with delicacy, and authentic swing with precision and clarity.
As a singer, performer and conversationalist, she provides a refreshing alternative to the kind of po-faced reverence that can make an evening of jazz seem a lot longer than it actually is.
She began playing and performing from an early age, and went on to become a fixture on the New York Jazz scene with a two-year residency at Birldland. Since then, Champian Fulton has travelled much farther afield to Europe and Asia, and has even played at the famous Hospitalfield Jazz Club here in Scotland.
On Speechless, Fulton gives her singing voice a rest and excercises her considerable dexterity and musicianship on no less than nine self-penned tunes sprinkled liberally with engaging improvisation. It’s a pretty clear statement in music from an artist who plainly and affectionately acknowledges the influence of past masters of jazz piano.
Her style has been variously compared to the likes of Bud Powell and Erroll Garner, yet she applies a post-modern sheen to long-established jazz mores and mannerisms with a combination of wit and poise that is completely her own.
What comes through loudly and clearly on Speechless is Fulton’s affection for a good, strong riff and the kind of chummy melody that was such a strong platform for Nat King Cole in his early trio days. The album is her seventh outing on record, but the first one to consist almost entirely of her own tunes.
Listening to the tilt and roll of Lator Gator you get a really strong sense of personal connectivity between today and yesterday with a melodic hook that has instant appeal and leaves a lasting impression. It’s indicative too of Fulton’s musical personality, which is full of sly, good-humoured nods and winks in the imagery thrown up by tunes like the parasol-swinging Day’s End, and the frantic bustle of Carandoleto’s.
Speechless is a busy little record that slows the pace markedly on two numbers: Pergola, which demonstrates that the seemingly indefatigable Miss Fulton does indeed have an introspective side, and Dark Blue, a reflective rather than brooding piece that suggests whatever the cause of this mood indigo, Champian will soon be her perennially cheerful self.
The only cover on the album is Somebody Stole My Gal written in 1918 by Leo Wood. In her wonderfully chatty album notes to the review copy, Champian admits that her arrangement is “meant to feature the trio as an ensemble and to indulge my fondness for uptempos.”
She’s accompanied by Adi Meyerson on bass and Ben Zweig on drums, who sound more like close relatives than supportive sidemen. In fact, throughout Speechless you can hear a 21st-Century species of jazz democracy at work, in which the players frequently mesh to enrich the melodic elements. In so doing, they invite, rather than compel the listener to listen more closely. It’s an approach that is likely to reach many listeners new to jazz without compromising on the ambition that defines it as jazz in the first place.
Speechless can, and will, get international airplay and, with luck, more than a few units will be shifted in favour of the musician’s bank balance. More importantly, Champian Fulton deserves credit, admiration and respect for demonstrating that women in jazz, more often than not, quietly and confidently let their excellent music do the talking.