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Charlie Parker’s centennial provides a great excuse for today’s jazz artists to revisit his repertoire. While some modernists turn his songs inside-out as they come up with new variations, others play creatively within the tradition. Count Champian Fulton among the latter.
A delightful singer who could have fit comfortably into the 1940s jazz scene — sometimes displaying a Dinah Washington influence — Fulton is also a fine mainstream pianist. Whether singing or playing, she always swings while doing justice to the songs that she interprets.
The very first music that Fulton ever heard was the Charlie Parker With Strings album. Her father, flugelhornist Stephen Fulton, played the recording for her as she was being born (in 1985). So it’s only natural that she record Birdsong, a set of 11 songs played by Parker. A major asset to the collection, veteran swing tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton lends his warm tone and melodic ideas to nine of the numbers. And, often recalling Clark Terry, Fulton’s father plays on four songs.
In addition to the quartet and quintet selections, all but two of which feature the leader’s vocals, a pair of instrumental trio numbers give bassist Hide Tanaka and drummer Fukushi Tainaka opportunities to stretch out. “Quasimodo,” a medium-tempo lope over the chords to “Embraceable You,” and a cooking version of “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” in the style of Bud Powell showcase Fulton’s piano playing with her rhythm section.
Other highlights include a version of “Just Friends,” which starts out as a ballad waltz before switching to a medium-slow 4/4 swing; Fulton’s fine ballad singing on “This Is Always”; and an ironically happy version of “If I Should Lose You.” A fun set of straightahead jazz, Birdsong is easy to enjoy. — Scott Yanow