|Theo Croker grew up in a musical family; jazz would seem to be coursing through his veins, a 21 years old trumpeter with talent to spare. The debut album from this powerhouse trumpeter, The Fundamentals, is a musical treat with ten songs of excitement, featuring trumpet but sharing space with a fine alto saxophone player and a trombone player backed up by a tight rhythm section that has some inspirational moments. The album captures the sextet as they navigate through Crokers original tunes, some inspired playing in a hard bop base with overtones of blues, boogie-woogie piano, a bit of funk and comfortably swinging throughout. Young Mr. Croker is a talented trumpeter, leader, composer and arranger.
Croker is set to graduate in May of this year from Oberlin Conservatory, a musical and educational learning institution with a faculty that includes Marcus Belgrave, Billy Hart, Gerry Bartz and Robin Eubanks, to name but a few of the maestros overseeing the development of the future of contemporary jazz. The Fundamentals is an excellent recording, I would expect nothing less than a good recording from their students.
The first track is a tune entitled Interlude One, which sounds like a classical intermission, but is a nice, short introduction of what is to come with a trio of horns inviting the listener to take a seat, relax and enjoy. There is a classical feel to the song, a moderate tempo with ostinato phrasing, solo trumpet is joined by additional horns, adding trumpet tracks to the mix and creating a full brass ensemble. The opening to the title track The Fundamentals utilizes the same intro phrase.
One of the highlight compositions, Focus, swings energetically. The song has some great trumpet breaks care of Croker, and a nice alto saxophone break by Stantwan Kendrick as well as a smooth trombone break by Andre Murchison. Midway through the song, a rousing bridge leads us to a piano break that finds Sullivan Fortner tickling the ivories in a subdued and delicate fashion, single note runs and minimal chords played in the high register. Drummer Ulysses Bim Owens takes the change in stride with energy, building the song back up to a dynamic drum solo and a full big band ending.
There will be two more Interludes nothing like the first one, other than that they are short numbers, in the range of two to three minutes. The beauty of Interlude Two at just less than two minutes is that it leads perfectly into The Middle Passage and a fantastic trumpet display. The composition starts out with a melodic and delicate piano phrase and is accompanied by bassist Chris Mees who plays col arco in a percussive style. The horns drift in and provide a melancholy background that lasts long enough to create an effect. Then theres quick change in tempo and groove. A pulsating funky beat with trumpet reaching into the heavens, firing off amazing runs, reaching for some pass-out notes and repeating the staccato bursts of warm sounding notes that gently glide and slide back to the main melody with so much groove you cant help but be moved. This is a trumpet song, but it nicely fades to the intro melody and provides Mees space for a pleasing pizzicato bass solo.
The recording has some nice ballads, some up-tempo hard driving hard bop styled tunes with excellent horn playing. A bluesy tune, Blooze, with some humorous lines, as in falling down slap stick muted trumpet manoeuvres and some ultra sensuous alto saxophone playing; There are enough interludes to fill a recital hall and even a bit of syncopated funk or is it Left Sided jazz? Labels? Only one label is necessary, this is a great first effort, highly recommended Good Music.
report by Paul J. Youngman KJA Jazz Advocate March 2007