She was tutored in jazz by Clark Terry while still a tyke and gained youthful appreciation of big bands from Red Holloway, Butch Miles and other Basie-ites. In other words, 27-year-old pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton was taught to swing by experts and, as demonstrated six years ago on her debut recording with David Berger’s Sultans of Swing, learned her lesson well. Reminiscent of another big-voiced, hard-swinging Oklahoman, Kay Starr, with scraps of Sooner State twang still evident, Fulton now settles into an easier groove, fronting a trio featuring bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka.
As befits her musical upbringing, Fulton favors an old-school approach, recalling the bandstand era when vocalists dotted, rather than dominated, a tune. Her playing, too, hints at days gone by, echoing the round joviality of Oscar Peterson. She opens by skillfully navigating the cross-breezes of “Tenderly,” and adds plenty of bounce to “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” a rolling “It’s Alright With Me” (both nicely detailed by guests Eric Alexander, on tenor sax, and her dad, trumpeter Stephen Fulton) and a loose-limbed “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” (again featuring the elder Fulton).
She is, perhaps, a bit too young to believably sell the torchy “It’s Too Late (Baby, Too Late).” Her “Foolin’ Myself” seems a tad too cheery and “The Shadow of Your Smile,” while long on technique, lacks genuine melancholy. But the cuddlier folds of “I’d Give a Dollar for a Dime” fit her just right.