At 49, Curtis Fowlkes finally has an album out on which he’s the sole leader: Reflect by his band Catfish Corner on Knitting Factory. Fowlkes, who co-leads the Jazz Passengers, plays in the Alphabet Lounge Big Band, and has recorded with the Lounge Lizards, Henry Threadgill and Bill Frisell, among others, is one of the finest jazz trombonists to emerge in the past couple of decades. But he’s not a self-promoter or, in a business sense, a go-getter, so Reflect has been a long time coming.
A deeply rooted Brooklyn-ite, Fowlkes admits “I live in the house my grandfather bought in the 1920s.” Fowlkes, who’s married and has a couple of kids, initially worked day gigs and didn’t become a full-time musician until 1977. “I got into the CETA program with Ernie Wilkins’ Jazzmobile project,” he says. From that point on, Fowlkes has been a full-time trombonist.
Stylistically, Reflect is sort of an advanced post-bop CD with a fusion element added by keyboardist Ted Cruz. Guitarist Duncan Cleary, trumpeter Russ Johnson and alto sax man Sam Furnace also make valuable contributions to the album. Fowlkes wrote six of the disc’s nine selections, and co-wrote another with vocalist/lyricist Sheila Prevost. One of relatively few trombonists to be influenced by Grachan Moncur, Fowlkes covers the under-appreciated master’s tune “The Coaster.” Fowlkes’ playing is forceful, even volatile, like a modern J.C. Higginbotham, using wide interval leaps and excitingly employing the upper register, but he also exhibits a big, lush tone on “When I Fall in Love.” J.J. Johnson also marks his work, but Fowlkes has been his own man since the ’80s.
“I hope to do something more adventurous,” Fowlkes says about his next CD, “with different instrumentation, possibly including strings and Brazilian-style percussionists.” Now that Fowlkes has gotten started, hopefully he’ll be cutting albums more frequently. As impressive a disc as Reflect is, it only begins to demonstrate his abilities.