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The Fundamentals by Theo Croker

Theo Croker grew up in a musical family; jazz would seem to be coursing through his veins, a young trumpeter, 21 years old, 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 Croker’s 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. I would expect nothing less than a good recording from their students, The Fundamentals is an excellent recording.

The first track is a tune entitled "Interlude One," sounds like a classical intermission, but it’s 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 hi-light compositions "Focus" swings energetically. The song has some great trumpet breaks care of Croker, a nice alto saxophone break by Stantwan Kendrick, as well as a smooth trombone break by Andre Murchison. At the midway point of the song, a rousing bridge leads us to a piano break that finds Sullivan Fortner tickling the ivories in a subdued an delicate fashion, single note runs and minimal chords played in the high register. Drummer Ulysses "Bim" Owens takes the change in energy in stride, 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 they are short numbers, in the range of two to three minutes. The beauty of "Interlude Two" at just less than two minutes is 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 make an effect. A quick change in tempo and groove, a pulsating funky beat with trumpet reaching into the heavens, firing off amazing runs and 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 can’t help but be moved. This is a trumpet song, but it nicely fades to the intro melody and provides Mees with 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. 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.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Theo Croker
  • CD Title: The Fundamentals
  • Genre: Contemporary Jazz / Modern
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Left Sided Music
  • Tracks: Interlude One, Focus, Interlude Two, The Middle Passage, With You, The Fundamentals, Blooze, Falling, Interlude Three, Left Sided
  • Musicians: Theo Croker (trumpet), Stantwan Kendrick (alto saxophone), Andre Murchison (trombone), Sullivan Fortner (piano), Chris Mees (bass), Ulysses “Bim” Owens (drums)
  • Rating: Four Stars
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