Tia Fuller: Decisive Steps

As its title suggests, saxophonist Tia Fuller’s third CD as a leader is an assertive affair. It’s largely about self-realization: in the title track, the aspirational “Windsoar,” and a perky, occasionally abstract take on “My Shining Hour,” one of two standards (the other is a sultry “I Can’t Get Started”). Prominently backed by pianist Shamie Royston, her sister and occasional co-writer, Fuller delivers a technically assured disc of pride, passion and originality—in that order.

The band is sharp and busy, the arrangements packed. The melodies span the tantalizing “Steppin,” a snippet featuring tap dancer Maurice Chestnut that should be developed into a true tune; the limpid “Clear Mind”; the bop-based title cut; and jazz verging on smooth (“Kissed by the Sun” and “Night Glow,” its cooler complement). All the tunes are sturdy, but memorable for virtuosity more than melody. The keeper is the taut “Ebb & Flow,” a nicely forked piece of postbop stretched over a hard funk frame. Not only does it rock (drummer Kim Thompson, Fuller’s mate in Beyoncé’s band, is notably crisp), it’s voiced sharp as a tack; guest bassist Christian McBride and guest trumpeter Sean Jones, her Mack Avenue label mates, spur one of Fuller’s most urgent solos.

Fuller’s virtuosity and dedication are not in question. More tunes like “Ebb & Flow,” more heart like she shows on “I Can’t Get Started,” and more of the relaxed sultriness of “Windsoar” would have made Decisive Steps essential. As it stands, it’s impressive.

Originally Published