The title certainly gets it right – as the set's one of the best (and one of the few) albums that trombonist Curtis Fuller cut in the 70s – a searingly sharp session that really shows a change from some of his Blue Note modes of the 60s! There's a current of righteous energy that moves through the set – and which maybe ties the sound more strongly to the sort of underground soul jazz work being recorded by the Black Jazz label of the period, or maybe like some of the hipper currents over at Prestige – such as Joe Henderson's albums. George Cables plays electric piano on the record – which already sets it apart from Fuller's earlier material – and the tracks are long, loose, and open – and graced with strong solo work from Bill Hardman on trumpet, Ray Moros on tenor, and Bill Washer on guitar. Yet perhaps strongest of all in shaping the record is the work of the rhythm duo Stanley Clarke on bass and Lenny White on drums – both working together here at an early point in their careers, but already hinting at the greatness to come. A very different album for Curtis Fuller.
Following the success of her 2011 album, Diva Divo, mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato presents an exciting collection of virtuosic arias in her 2012 release on Virgin, Drama Queens. Drawing on royal roles in Baroque operas by Handel, Monteverdi, and Haydn, as well as selections from such minor composers as Orlandini, Porta, Keiser, Hasse, Cesti, and Giacomelli, DiDonato demonstrates both her impressive vocal abilities and a wide range of characterizations. Supported by the period ensemble Il Complesso Barocco, conducted by Alan Curtis, DiDonato sings with dynamic power and exquisite embellishments, executing runs and ornaments with sparkling brilliance and projecting her voice with ease. But even more important than her technical prowess is her charismatic presentation of these 17th and 18th century opera heroines, whose passionate emotions and exaggerated behavior are wonderfully realized in DiDonato's dramatic interpretations. Since Baroque opera has become something of a specialized interest of early music connoisseurs, DiDonato's album is a welcome introduction for listeners less familiar with this period, and her faithful performances make the era come to life with appealing freshness and vitality.
Curtis Fuller is definitely smoking here – finding a way to fit his soulful trombone style to a sweet electric groove for the 70s – all at a level that makes the album one of his best from the decade! The drums are great – handled by Billy Higgins throughout, in a way that can be stone funky at some points, and nicely fluid at others – which Fuller matches with a combo that includes Cedar Walton on acoustic and electric piano, Bill Hardman on trumpet, Jimmy Heath on tenor and soprano, Earl Dunbar on guitar, and Mickey Bass on drums! The whole set is a wonderful step sideways for most players – a great way to reinvent their soulful styles of the 60s, but without going for any modes that are slick and commercial.
The world of early 18th century opera was very different to that of, say, Mozart. The story was the thing. Librettos were offered to musicians as a means of getting the poetic drama before the public. Thus the great librettists were set multiple times. So it was with Vienna's imperial poet Metastasio's Catone in Utica. This story, set in the ancient Numidian city of Utica - now a ruin in Tunisia - involves the Roman Cato the Younger and his conflict with Julius Caesar. The plot itself is the usual mixture of love and betrayal, but because it was by Metastasio there were at least two settings, by Vinci and Hasse, even before Vivaldi composed the present piece.
The Opener is trombonist Curtis Fuller's first album for Blue Note and it is a thoroughly impressive affair. Working with a quintet featuring tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Bobby Timmons, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Art Taylor, Fuller runs through a set of three standards - "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening," "Here's to My Lady," "Soon" - two originals and an Oscar Pettiford-penned calypso. The six songs give Fuller a chance to display his warm, fluid style in all of its variations. "A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening" illustrates that he can be seductive and lyrical on ballads, while the brassy "Hugore" and hard-swinging "Lizzy's Bounce" shows that he can play hard without getting sloppy…