Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Fathead Newman's Straightahead "Cityscape"

David ‘Fathead’ Newman has certainly come a long way from his initial appearance on wax, a session by Texas Blues Man, Zuzu Bollin (and Newman played on Bullin’s rediscovery album decades later). Best known for his fat sound while a member of Ray Charles legendary band in the late fifties and early sixties, Newman has had a distinguished career since leaving Charles and continues to perform and record showing little diminution in his music. A relatively recent HighNote release, Cityscape, has him on tenor, alto and flute,leading a septet which includes his rhythm section of David Leonhardt on piano, John Menegon on bass and Yoron Isreal on drums. They are joined by Howard Johnson on baritone, Benny Powell on trombone and Winston Byrd on trumpet and flugelhorn. The notes observe that the septet format recalls the classic Ray Charles band of the fifties that Newman was part of, although a comparison that perhaps raises false expectations as this band is more of a straight Hard Bop aggregation that does not have the tight sound of Charles’ legendary band. There is a nice mix of material including originals as well as standards such as the opening rendition of the theme from the James Bond movie, Goldfinger, Billy Strayhorn’s lovely A Flower is a Lonesome Thing and It Was a Very Good Year, that most associate with Frank Sinatra. Goldfinger is an attractive but hardly startling feature for Newman who sounds stronger on flute with a bit of Mid-Eastern flavor for the lively Pharoah’s Gold, with Howard Johnson providing an arrangement of the 5/4 Claude Johnson theme, while Newman’s tenor caresses the Strayhorn classic with the muted horn riffs of the others adding atmosphere. Bassist Menegon contributed the walking blues, Bu Bop Bass, with Johnson opening with some strong choruses before Fathead takes over on tenor with some insinuating playing. Howard Johnson’s original, Here Comes Sonny Man, has Newman on alto on a number that sounds like it could have been written as a theme for a seventies TV show. Newman returns to tenor on a romantic It Was a Very Good Year, which suggests that in his golden years, Newman still remains an authoritative player. Another flute feature is Newman’s original, Flankin’, dedicated to his wife’s late mom where he is backed just by his rhythm trio. While the septet here perhaps lacks the tightness and authority that Ray Charles Band had, this is a strong set of straight-ahead straight-ahead jazz that should please many.

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