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Champian Fulton: After Dark

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The title is well chosen, as are the front- and back-cover images, both showcasing Champian Fulton draped in fur. The vocalist-pianist’s sixth album is late-night, smoky-boîte jazz of the highest caliber, its arrangements elegantly mink-wrapped. Featuring her regular trio-mates, bassist David Williams and drummer Lewis Nash, with another constant, her father Stephen, as producer and horn-playing guest on four selections, After Dark introduces a more grown-up Fulton. The youthful vivacity that so strongly defined her previous releases cedes to a torchy ripeness.

Fulton’s intent, to venerate Dinah Washington, one of her earliest vocal heroes, only partially succeeds. She can never hope-nor does she attempt-to match Washington’s torrid sass and growl or her winking slyness. And she doesn’t straddle jazz and blues as Washington so distinctively did. Still, exercising her freshly minted maturity, Fulton winningly echoes her idol’s voluptuary fervor.

Apart from “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes” and a fittingly indigo rendering of “A Bad Case of the Blues,” Fulton sidesteps the signature tunes: no “This Bitter Earth” or “TV Is the Thing” or “Blow Top Blues.” Instead she focuses on various-hued standards plucked from Washington’s vast catalog, extending from “Blue Skies” and two vampy dips into the Fats Waller songbook to an impressively louche “Mad About the Boy.” To close out the 11-track tribute, Fulton adds one original, the dusky, meandering instrumental “Midnight Stroll,” mirroring the dark lushness that shaped the flipside of Washington’s salty, peppery panache.

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