Champian Fulton, a singer with a secure sense of time and a sensitive ear, is fortunate to have the support of David Berger and the Sultans of Swing, a 15-piece band governed by a distinctive balance and thrust. She brings an unaffected sense of intimacy to the reading of a lyric, never attempting to overwhelm; Berger’s crisp arrangements are a decided asset to their monthlong Monday night residency at Birdland.
Fulton’s opener, “I Didn’t Mean a Word I Said,” was rendered with the kind of grace and purity that once marked the terrain of Maxine Sullivan. A subtly pointed trombone solo by Marshall Gilkes and Dan Block’s sweet and syrupy tenor augmented the old Jimmy McHugh movie tune.
Fulton’s warm and appealing timbre was used well in story-telling (Billy Reid’s “The Gypsy”) and swing (Louis Jordan’s “There Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens”) settings; the band put a politely crisp frame around her and she sailed comfortably into a hip barnyard.
A post-holiday highlight found the band with a roaring triplet from the Duke Ellington take on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” that was topped by tenorman Mark Hynes, soaring with the kind of punch and drive that marked the landmark solos of Paul Gonsalves. Less inspired, despite the fine ensemble work, was the old torcher “It’s the Talk of the Town” set to an archaic cha-cha tempo.
New Year’s Day marked a special guest appearance by Jon Hendricks who reflected upon his 87 years with “Last Night When We Were Young” and “September of My Years,” which turned out to be plaintive reminiscent stepping stones. Still swinging after all these years, the hallmark Hendricks rascally jazz vocal surfaced with “Gimme That Wine,” supported by a big band chase.
Fulton, whose debut album was recently released on the Such Sweet Thunder label, joined the legend for “Cloudburst,” a wailing finale.