Rookies of the Year

Tyshawn Sorey's provocations lead a pack of notable 2007 debuts

Champian Fulton with David Berger & the Sultans of Swing, Champian (Such Sweet Thunder). The past is another country too, but the best new singer I've heard this year—make that several years—aids the 15-piece Sultans in resisting period nostalgia, even on '40s jive like Louis Jordan's "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens." Fulton's unforced sense of swing comes in just as handy on the vintage ballads, where her other assets include precise enunciation like you just don't hear anymore in jazz singing, though it was once a requisite. (King Pleasure's intonation may have been iffy, but he could have taught elocution.) Dueting with bassist Dennis Irwin on "You Turned the Tables on Me," Fulton also shows herself to be a fine, splanky pianist. Her only weakness is a thin higher register, most noticeable on "The Gypsy," though this forgotten Billy Reid ballad—once recorded by Charlie Parker and Earl Coleman—is an inspired choice for this project, given its combination of lyrics typical of '40s romantic fatalism (beautifully delivered by Fulton) and advanced, Tadd Dameron–like chords (brought to the fore by Berger's spiraling arrangement).

Champian Fulton, master enunciator
Patrick Chisolm
Champian Fulton, master enunciator

Rafi Malkiel, My Island (Raftone). A delightful out-of-left-field DIY. Trombonists like this Israeli transplant are drawn to Latin music because its ensembles have offered them a prominent place through thick and thin. What's increasingly been drawing the rest of us might be that Colombian fandangos and Cuban boleros encourage lyrical outpourings of a sort frowned upon as embarrassing in straight-ahead jazz—Malkiel's adoringly woozy take on pre-revolutionary Cuban troubadour Bienvenido Julian Gutiérrez's "Los Tres Juanes" is a perfect example of what I'm talking about, and Abraham Rodriguez's frayed vocal is guaranteed to break your heart. A clever treatment of "Nature Boy" gives you the sensation of having been invited to the world's hippest bar mitzvah, and the improvised polyphony it climaxes with continues the fun. Along with Malkiel and the suddenly ubiquitous Anat Cohen on clarinet, the other standout soloist is Chris Karlic, a sinewy tenor saxophonist I've never heard of, but whose own debut as a leader I eagerly await.

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