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10/18/11

Curtis Fuller
The Story of Cathy & Me
Challenge Records

Curtis Fuller’s wife of 30 years, Catherine Rose Driscoll Fuller, died of lung cancer in 2010. In memory of their time together, trombonist Fuller assembled this set of musical sketches and spoken remembrances, enlisting the assistance of vocalist Tia Michelle Rouse and a crew of top-flight players. The selections include two Fuller originals (“Little Dreams,” “Sweetness”), some well-known standards, and several more obscure, but no less appropriate, borrowings. The suite is divided into three sections, each introduced by a brief spoken “Interlude”; a fourth “Interlude” serves as the coda.

Fuller wears his grief on his sleeve throughout this set, but it’s an act of courage, not self-pity; as wrenching as his story may be, it’s never lachrymose. Lester Walker’s trumpet solo work is infused with light, but never so merry that it breaks the overall elegiac mood. Tenor saxophonists Daniel Bauerkemper and Akeem Marable are strongly directional yet loose, even playful, with their phrasing, timbral variations and harmonic juxtapositions. Fuller displays his well-known warmth and fullness of tone, but he also makes his sound harsher with a broad, almost blatty directness, even at pianissimo (accentuating the intimate, conversational feel). Rouse brings immediacy—both pathos and steely survivor’s grit—to Abbey Lincoln and Thad Jones’ “Love Was Everything When Love Was You and Me” and “The Right to Love,” a Gene Lees/Lalo Schifrin ode to love’s hard-won triumph over social disapproval.

But it’s Fuller’s gritty sense of humor that ultimately redeems him, and us, from despair. “I’ve had the love of my life—you get yours!” he barks with a sardonic chuckle on “My Wish for Cathy and My Friends” (the final spoken “Interlude”). He then adds, “And I wish you’d go buy my records.” Laughter, as a poet once wrote, is a fist in the face of the gods.

Originally published in October 2011
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