Tia Fuller ‘Diamond Cut’ CD (Mack Avenue) 4/5

A new name to these ears and, if the cover photo might suggest either smooth jazz, or a vocalist, then think again. Tia Fuller is a serious alto saxophone (with occasional forays into soprano) who, thanks to the excellent production duties of one Terri Lyne Carrington, has some heavyweights musicians on board to accompany her on this fourth album for Mack Avenue. Previously, Fuller was part of the Beyoncé touring band, and she leads a parallel career as a full-time professional with lecturing duties at the Berklee School of Music. Among other jazz artists, Fuller has performed more recently with Esperanza Spalding.

Drumming duties here are divided up between Jack DeJohnette, Bill Stewart and Carrington herself, while both electric and double bass are performed by either James Genus, or Dave Holland. For this debut on the label, it is in fact the sensitive accompaniment of guitarist Adam Rodgers that makes for a highly enjoyable listen, with just two numbers featuring organist Sam Yahel. If the majority of the compositions are self-penned, it is the reworking of classic standards that marks Fuller out as a young musician with credentials. Best of all, a lovely reworking of Mal Waldron’s’ ‘Soul Eyes’, here taken at an unusual brisker, mid-tempo with bossa inflections, and this works supremely well, with Rodgers adding some delicious guitar licks. Another modern update is that of Cole Porter’s ‘I Love You’ (another memorable interpretation of an early album from a then young Turk, was pianist Jacky Terrasson), which retains its essence, yet here emphasizes the bass line to a greater extent. Opening up proceedings is a fast-moving, ‘In The Trenches’, with alto and guitar in tandem, and Genus operating on double bass. For some intimate balladry, the maturity in Fuller’s playing is showcased on, ‘Crowns of Grey’. In terms of influences, Tia Fuller is difficult to pin down. There is fire in the belly in places that a 1960s Jackie McLean or Kenny Garrett might feel at home with, and elsewhere refined and soulful hues that might even hint at Johnny Hodges. That is illustrated on the third standard, a gentle interpretation of the Buddy Johnson composition, ‘Save Your Love For Me’. If one thing does need to change for future releases, then probably the inner cover sleeve photo would have projected a more serious side to the saxophonist whereas the present one just confuses the potential buyer and listener. Otherwise, a blossoming career and one that is worth observing over time.

Tim Stenhouse