Curtis Fuller & Hampton Hawes ♠ With French Horns (1957 LP Van Gelder Studio Full Album)
One would be hard pressed to find an instrument less suited to jazz than the French horn. Firmly rooted in classical music and played sitting down, the French horn seems almost to resist being pulled from the orchestra pit. Of course, this didn’t stop people from using it. The wide experimentation of the forties and fifties brought several new instruments to the jazz spectrum; as a result, the French horn gained a few advocates along the way. Mostly, though, this was in larger group settings; very few souls were daring enough to suggest that it could be used in a smaller context. Fuller and Hawes were not only willing to try, but to make the focus of the session.
If nothing else, Fuller and Hawes achieve the distinction of leading the only small group to ever feature two French horns in the front line. Just from this fact alone, you can expect to hear something a little different. The three brass instruments are similar enough that they blend quite nicely and, in some cases, are almost indistinguishable from one another. Shihab’s alto provides a necessary balance to what would otherwise be a somewhat murky front line; his brittle lines add variety while cutting through the chocolate tones of the other three.
As far as the songs themselves go, Fuller is up to his usual bop trickery and Hawes pounds away skillfully as well. The French horn, however, is not well suited to this type of music and lacks the force to pull off a solo without sounding a little feeble next to the other two. Two French horn solos also gets a bit repetitive. Better is the somber choreography of “A-Drift” and “Five Spot” which sounds a bit like early Mingus; here the horns add rich colorings without having to navigate the changes.
Like any album that wears its eccentricities on its sleeve, this one is not without its flaws but is certainly unique and enjoyable when it works. Both Fuller and Hawes’s body of work are well served by this reissue. By DAVID RICKERT allaboutjazz.com
The French horn has rarely been used in jazz as a solo instrument until recent times. Back in the 1950s, jazz’s top French horn player was Julius Watkins, with David Amram certainly ranking in the top five. For this 1957 session, trombonist Curtis Fuller and his quintet with altoist Sahib Shihab, pianist Hampton Hawes (Teddy Charles, who contributed three originals, takes his place on one number), bassist Addison Farmer, and drummer Jerry Segal are joined by both Watkins and Amram. On originals by Charles, Amram, and Salvatore Zito, the colorful ensembles and the very adept soloing by the French horns make this a particularly memorable recording. Strange that this album has been obscure for so long. Only the brief playing time keeps this intriguing set from getting a higher rating. by Scott Yanow
Curtis Fuller – trombone
Teddy Charles (track 4), Hampton Hawes (tracks 1-3, 5 & 6) – piano
Sahib Shihab – alto saxophone
David Amram, Julius Watkins – French horn
Addison Farmer – bass
Jerry Segal – drums
Recorded: May 18, 1957, Van Gelder Studio, Hackensack, New Jersey
Released Possibly December 1964
Label Status ST 8305
Producer Bob Weinstock
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