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Curtis Fuller: The Complete Blue Note/UA Sessions

The magnificent chops for bebop trombone may have fallen to J.J. Johnson, but God gave Curtis Fuller a big chunk of the soul. Fuller’s sound is dependably clean and solid, uncomplicated and direct, a tad guttural and gruff, but honest as your Dutch uncle, and satisfying and comforting as a roast beef dinner.

This box—comprising Fuller’s five 40-minute Blue Note LP dates, four quintets and a sextet—has more pure melody per track than most Blue Notes. Fuller’s sound shows best on hot-buttered ballads where the pure melody pours forth, and the box has a bunch of them: a grateful “Lovely Way to Spend an Evening,” a devoted “Here’s to My Lady.” “Carvon” is an extreme example: trombone then bowed bass state a somewhat somber theme, then together. Otherwise, they’re happy little tunes, played ever so nicely. There’s also a modicum of waltzes that really dance: the cute “Oatmeal Cookie” and “Nita’s Waltz.”

Consistency of format and symmetry of arrangement shine as hallmarks of producer Alfred Lion, whose four dates (1957-8) showcase Fuller with horn and rhythm. The horns are Hank Mobley’s tenor, Tate Houston’s bari, Art Farmer’s trumpet, and Slide Hampton’s fellow ‘bone. Best of show for me were Mobley (clarion as soloist) and Hamp (witty as foil). A bonus is plenty of pretty pianist Sonny Clark and agile bassist Paul Chambers (three dates each), as both are allotted ample solo space.

Mosaic’s package, typically crisp and straightforward as those pristine dates, does credit to Fuller’s blowing, Rudy Van Gelder’s engineering, Alfred Lion’s production, and Francis Wolff’s photographs. The box lays out 32 tracks as clean as a whistle; typically no quarter is given alternate takes (were the first all nailed down?) except the lone, tricky Gigi Gryce sextet chart, “Down Home.” Bravo!

There’s also a lot to be said for the sheer readability (and justice to Wolff) of Mosaic’s LP-box format with full-sized 11×11 booklet and punchout insert for the CDs. You all know their address by now: Mosaic, 35 Melrose Place, Stamford CT 06902.

Originally Published