What is an angelic warrior and how does it come to be? That’s what Thursday night’s audience at the Strathmore Mansion was tasked with exploring as the Tia Fuller Quartet performed in celebration of the angelic warriors we encounter in our lives and that exist within us all. Described as the duality of the peaceful and loving angel juxtaposed with the determined, fighter warrior, the angelic warrior—though not confined by gender—represents yet another phase in the life of women who have to be everything for everybody. This seems to be a trend Fuller intends to continue (this time consciously) when selecting album titles for her recordings. As a female musician working to carve out her place in the male dominated world of jazz while also honoring her feminine spirit, I’d argue that the angelic warrior being celebrated Thursday night was Fuller herself.
Joined onstage by Mimi Jones (bass), EJ Strickland (drums), and her sister Shamie Royston (piano), Fuller began her set with a pre-recorded angelic warrior intro that opened the door for Strickland to unleash a fiery lead-off drum solo. Following Strickland’s solo, Fuller emerged from the back of the room outfitted in a sparkly, sequined top, shiny leggings, even sparklier, six-inch stilettos, and her trademark, megawatt smile—the armor of choice for the girliest of the angelic warrior ilk. With each measured step toward the bandstand, Fuller’s sound grew in power and intensity. Show time!
Beginning the set with “Royston Rumble” Fuller stepped out of the spotlight for a moment to afford her sister the musical space to shine. And, in one part unspoken expression of gratitude and two parts she can’t help that she’s astonishingly talented, Royston took care to sound as though she invented the rumble. She attacked the piano with such soul, grandness and exactitude that you almost didn’t care what anyone else was playing. Strickland, taking his part in the rumble, was able to handle everything that Royston dished out sounding as though he’d taken some notes from Royston’s husband Rudy who filled the drum chair on the recording.
On “Little Les,” a song written for a friend’s unborn baby girl, Fuller and Jones were the ones to do the heavy lifting performing the lullaby with sweet, delicate touches that surely touched the heart of the new father who just so happened to be in the audience. Speaking of family and friends, Fuller got some help performing a completely revamped version of “Body and Soul” from her cousin Baiye, a local spoken word (poetry) artist. On “Cherokee” Fuller stepped back into the spotlight opening the song with a beautiful solo that seemed to convey the no need for words sentiment of her longtime friend and colleague, Sean Jones. During her solo, you could hear expressions of appreciation, confidence, strength, vulnerability, hunger, and affirmation. Being an angelic warrior is no easy feat. When you’ve given everything you can to bring happiness and security to others, what’s left for you and what are you prepared to do about it? That’s what Fuller’s solo expressed and the audience allowed her to have that moment. When the other musicians joined in to perform the standard, the audience danced along in their seats and tapped their toes—Strickland, Fuller and Royston played off one another while Jones was the glue that held it all together.
It’s always a delight to hear what Fuller and her quartet come up with musically. Her desire to celebrate the angelic warriors in her life is an opportunity for jazz audiences to celebrate what she’s been able to bring to the music. On behalf of everyone who’s ever heard her play, thank you, Ms. Fuller, for being an angelic warrior for jazz. The art world is lucky to have you.
Major props to everyone at the Strathmore Mansion for making this show happen.
Writer’s note: photos were not allowed during the performance, but be sure to look at some of the candid shots I was able to get after the show.