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11/30/12

Tia Fuller
Angelic Warrior
Mack Avenue Records

Angelic Warrior is a veritable almanac of the alto saxophone in contemporary mainstream jazz. Tia Fuller gives her distinctive sound a full and exhilarating workout, with bop (“Cherokee”), Coltrane-esque modal jams (“Royston Rumble”), Caribbean flavor (“Descend to Barbados”), sax-bass-drums trio (“So in Love”) and even vocal accompaniment (“Body and Soul,” featuring Dianne Reeves).

Fuller brings three secret weapons to the mix: a ferocious rhythm section (her sister and brother-in-law, pianist Shamie Royston and drummer Rudy Royston, bassist Mimi Jones and guest Terri Lyne Carrington); bassist John Patitucci, whose guitarlike electric piccolo bass here puts him on the frontline; and her own experience working in poppier realms with the likes of Beyoncé and Esperanza Spalding. The lattermost manifests clearly in the music’s gloss and textures, as on “Ralphie’s Groove” and “Tailor Made.” It also tightens her compositions and arrangements. The melody-harmony integration in “Lil Les” is as solid as it gets, and without being tame: It’s offset by Fuller and her sister trading 16s, progressively upping the rhythmic ante.

Fuller’s sax chops, however, remain the cannon in the arsenal. She has remolded the post-Kenny Garrett alto lineage in her own unique image. Mellow enough to duet with Patitucci on three tunes and with Shamie Royston on two, she also demonstrates tremendous timbral muscle on “Lil Les.” And Fuller shows off her dizzying melodic imagination on “Simpl-City,” and shrewdly navigates “Cherokee”’s changes at a breakneck funk tempo. It’s quite a ride.

Originally published in November 2012
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