Tia Fullerâs third release on Mack Avenue Records, Angelic Warrior, marks her deep-rooted evolution as an instrumentalist, composer and bandleader. After five years in BeyoncĂ©âs band, the pop divaâs attention to detail in the studio rubbed off on Fuller. She has since developed a heightened focus in the editing, mixing and mastering process of Angelic Warrior, as the producer. And as the Assistant Musical Director for Esperanza Spaldingâs Radio Music Society touring band, Fuller applies her pop and jazz chops on behalf of some of the hottest artists in music today.
On Angelic Warrior, Fuller makes an aesthetic statement thatâs fully her own. The album celebrates the peaceful demeanor of the âangelâ and the drive and determination of the âwarriorâ spirit within. Fuller says, âWhile writing this album, I was balancing different aspects in my life and careerâŠtrying to pull from the âwarriorâ energy, while remaining graceful in my spirit. We can all celebrate the Angelic Warrior within ourselves by trusting in our vision, doing the work and maintaining a level of peace.â In addition, Angelic Warrior pays homage to the angels in Fullerâs life: her family and friends. âI wanted to celebrate core individuals who serve as pillars of inspiration,â she says.
A shift in the texture of Fullerâs front-line on Angelic Warrior is further evidence of her expansion as an artist. Instead of sharing the front-line with trumpet, this time it is with John Patitucci on piccolo bass (which can easily be mistaken for guitar).
âIt was an exciting challenge for me, because I was expanding upon a new concept to utilize the electric bass as both a melodic and harmonic voiceâŠplaying contrapuntal lines with me,â Fuller states. Patitucciâs virtuosity and versatility is heard throughout, such as on âRoyston Rumbleâ where he plays both melody and bass lines.
The piano and drum chairs are held by Fullerâs sister Shamie Royston, and her brother-in-law Rudy Royston respectively, both to whom the first number âRoystonâs Rumbleâ is dedicated. Fuller calls the opening part of the song a âbeautiful duel.â She considers them role models because they set an example of work ethic and perseverance in the course of a marriage approaching two decadesââI wanted to celebrate their unconditional love for each other.â
Drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr. is the inspiration for âRalphieâs Groove,â a sultry song with a sexy beat derived from Petersonâs âSurrender,â itself inspired by a creative synthesis of Ahmad Jamalâs âPoincianaâ and Tony Williamsâ âSister Cheryl.â
The albumâs third track, âAngelic Warriorâ is inspired by elements of Terri Lyne Carringtonâs GRAMMYÂź Award-winning recording, The Mosaic Project and the Beatlesâ âBlackbird.â On the title track, the melody line on soprano soars as the drums play a military beatâFuller âwanted to sonically portray the âangelâ in the melody and evolve to the âwarriorâ element, reflecting the feeling of going to war. On a daily basis, we, as people, deal with so many things that require us to tap into that warrior spirit.â Carrington is the inspiration for this song, âShe encompasses the graceful, yet warrior spirit, who has blazed the pathway for many musicians and female instrumentalists,â Fuller says.
Carrington explains, âFrom playing with great horn players like Wayne Shorter and Stan Getz, I just wanted to help and encourage her. I fell in love with Tiaâs playing. She has a lot of respect for the history of the music and has done her homework.â
âLilâ Les,â composed at the request of Leslie Browder, is a calming song that evokes the innocence of a childrenâs tune. Fuller conceived it for Browderâs then-unborn child, Lesleigh Marie Browder. âThis song was actually the first that I wrote for the album. As a âtoy playingâ theme for Lesleigh.â
Fullerâs father would call for âBody and Soulâ when theyâd gig together back in Colorado, her birthplace. âHere Iâm paying homage to my mom and dad, the body and soul of the family. I wanted to incorporate a solid bass line to represent my father [bassist Fred Fuller] and feature master vocalist, Dianne Reeves, to celebrate my mother [vocalist Elthopia Fuller]. What a dream come true to have Dianne featured on this arrangement.â
Fuller wrote her originals over a period of five months while on the road. For example, she sang the melody and bass line of âDescend to Barbadosâ into her voicemail when about to touch down in Barbados. Dedicated to good friend Mimi Jones, Fuller states, âHaving come from Barbadian parents, Mimi has âDescended from Barbados,â and serves as the ultimate groove master.â
Structurally, âOde to Beâ is at the midpoint and end of the recording. Musically, she says, itâs âa musical pause, allowing the album to breathe. The title has a dual meaning: an ode to BeyoncĂ© spurred by a song she sang in a dream, and an ode to just âbeingâ.â
âSo In Love With All of Youâ is felicitous melding of two Cole Porter compositions. Carringtonâs arrangement, reminiscent of Thelonious Monkâs âEvidence,â inspirits the intro to this Porter tribute. The sax, bass and drum trio allows the longtime musical kinship between Carrington and Patitucci (having both played with Wayne Shorter) to be explored further. Fuller improvises on top of Carringtonâs cymbals like a surfer riding a wave as Patitucci provides a rhythmic and harmonic seabed.
âTailor Madeâ is a rock-out backbeat tune Fuller penned for lifelong friend, Ed Legin. âWe always talk about how you have to tailor-make your life for you. He loves R&B from the â70s.â What better way to pay nostalgic homage to R&B than with a head-bopping groove inspired by another good friend, Esperanza Spalding and her song âWinter Sun.â The short ballad âCore of Meâ is a âcelebration of the self, coming to a place of reflection and being comfortable in your own skin. Embracing who you are.â âSimpli-Cityâ begins basic, with sweet swing. Then urban complications enter, thus capturing the âduality: simple vs. complicated.â For âCherokee,â Carringtonâs crafty arrangement grounds the rhythm in a hybrid jungle beat. âTerri Lyne and Rudy were playing simultaneously with this version. Two drummers plus a drum track! Merging the experience of house music meets jazz tradition,â reflects Fuller.
Of Fullerâs saxophone performance, Carrington says: âShe plays with the kind of aggression that men do. My dad says, Tiaâs a woman playing that horn like itâs supposed to be played. Heâs old-school. I understood what he meant.â You will too when hearing the searing bite and intelligence-grounded-in-feeling of Fullerâs alto and soprano sax. On alto, sheâs like a warriorâher fire and punch, as well as rhythmic freedom and drive are obvious to listeners. Furthermore, her soulful soprano sax styling is the angelic voice in her sound spectrum.
Fullerâs aesthetic statement on Angelic Warrior is grounded in a jazz mode of expression that embraces both the classic and the contemporary sounds surrounding her. Itâs no mistake that artists from Ralph Peterson, Jr. and Esperanza Spalding to Terri Lyne Carrington and BeyoncĂ© include her instrumental voice and vision in their work. With this recording, Tia Fuller surfaces clearly, rising to the top of her generation of musicians. Fusing traditions, styles, and unafraid of genre boundaries, Fullerâs music transgresses the musical frontiers of today, manifest to last well into the future.