Change Partners: Live at the Yardbird Suite
Now in her late 20s, pianist and vocalist Champian Fulton grows in stature with each recording. A fixture in New York City since graduating from high school in 2003, she puts her own joyful stamp on swing standards.
As a pianist, Fulton is particularly inspired by Oscar Peterson, Red Garland and Erroll Garner. Even so, she’s carved out a distinctive style that includes increasingly adventurous solos. And despite occasional resemblances to Anita O’Day and Dinah Washington in her vocals, Fulton’s singing sounds original. She often slides between notes like a trombone, stretching out words in surprising ways.
Change Partners teams Fulton with tenor-saxophonist Cory Weeds, bassist Jodi Proznick and drummer Julian MacDonough. The pianist had previously played with these musicians at Weeds’ Cellar Live club in Vancouver. When an opportunity arose to perform at The Yardbird Suite in Edmonton, Alberta, she hired the same group for what would be her first live album.
Weeds’ tenor solos in the past have usually been more modern than Fulton’s. Here, the two musicians find a complementary middle ground, with the saxophonist sounding more swing-oriented while Fulton stretches herself. Proznick and MacDonough do play occasional solos but mainly assume supportive roles, driving the ensemble and inspiring the two lead voices.
The set features seven standards, including an up-tempo “Lover, Come Back to Me,” a slower-than-usual “After You’ve Gone” and Gigi Gryce’s “Social Call,” plus Frank Wess’ obscure “You Made a Good Move” and Stephen Fulton’s “Bring Enough Clothes.” The latter was composed by Champian’s trumpet-playing father, who borrowed the chord changes to “Green Dolphin Street.”
Change Partners presents Fulton in prime form, her voice particularly fetching on “The Boy Next Door.” This live session offers a perfect introduction for those not yet familiar with her talents. —Scott Yanow