It’s easy to be skeptical when the jazz community raves unanimously about a player, particularly when she’s the sax player for Beyonce. There have been many great “sidemen” unable to lead their own show.
Tia Fuller put all that to rest once again Friday night in Schenectady — as she also did this summer at the Saratoga Jazz Fest — at the second show of the season for “A Place for Jazz,” held at the First Unitarian Society.
Fuller and her quartet play high-minded, complex and physically aggressive jazz. You think you grasp the song, then they get away from you, leaving you empty handed. They returned to the melody for a quick moment, offering a “you are here” moment, then they zipped away again in cloud of dust.
She is the granddaughter of Capital Region bassist Bill Fuller, to whom she dedicated the show. “Play from the heart, and play something people know,” he once told her. She definitely did the former, her eyes shut while she played, blowing at times with all her might and fingering the horn keys as fast as she could.
Her sister Shamie Royston played piano, and Shamie’s husband Rudy Royston played the drums. This family combo must make for interesting travel on the road. She pointed out some cousins, aunts and uncles in the seats. At intermission Fuller hung out in the crowd talking to everyone like a family reunion.
While Fuller seemed to pull excitement from a hat whenever she wanted with her horn, my favorite parts were when the trio played without her, led by pianist Royston and bassist Mimi Jones. Easier to follow as a trio, they swooped around the dome less like three separate tracks, and more like a 3-D motion of sound that came your way in rhythmic but unsteady waves.
She played originals like “Clear Minds,” and “Decisive Steps,” the title track from her latest, as well as classics like “Body and Soul.”
She opened the second set with Charlie Parker’s boppy “Billie’s Bounce,” the first mid-tempo swing tune of the night, which they delivered nicely. Interestingly, Royston stayed off the piano during Fuller’s solo, giving the three others more room to frolic.
When Royston took her piano solo, she began with sparse phrasing for a few rounds before falling in to her own style of sweeping, melodic chords and ideas spanning full verses. As you can guess, drummer Royston reacted biggest and best to his wife’s solos through the night.
Drummer Royston took several lengthy solos. He’s a smooth and frantic drummer, filling time with more time. He is a busy player and little happens without him on the case.
“He’s got the hardest job,” Fuller said of Royston midway through the show. “He has to travel with three women.”
She asked us politely at the beginning of the show to “sit back and let us take you on this journey.” Some of us rode with her most, if not all, the way, and some of us wanted to soar on her modern adventures but lacked the ear and training.
She holds her audience to a high standard — ironic, given her Beyonce association — but I’d bet most in the room will take up the challenge again when she returns to the region.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette: