Saturday, November 27, 2010

Calvin Newborn Strong Guitar

The following review of the underated guitarist Calvin Newborn’s “New Born” (Yellow Dog) originally appeared in July/August 2005 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 275). If you somehow missed out on this when it first came out This CD is still available.

Guitarist Calvin Newborn came from a celebrated Memphis musical family. His father Finas led a celebrated orchestra in the Memphis area, and his older brother Phineas would later become a renowned jazz pianist whose career was often plagued by bouts with mental illness. Calvin himself has bridged the worlds of blues and jazz over the decades. The late Charlie Rich did an absolutely marvelous jazz-blues date before he died which benefited from Calvin Newborn’s jazz-inflected blues playing.

Newborn self-produced a couple of CDs on his own label but had not recorded for some time when the Yellow Dog label (named after a W.C. Handy song I believe) got him in the studio for New Born. Much of this date has the flavor of a classic Blue Note session from the late sixties – early seventies with some fine horns from Herman Green on sax and flute and Scott Thompson on trumpet with Donald Brown on piano and Charlie Wood on organ.

With the exception of Newborn Blues from his brother’s pen and Billy Strayhorn’s wonderful Lush Life, Calvin Newborn wrote all of the selections. It opens with a nice bluesy organ groove on When Kingdom Comes/Sho’ Nuff on which Newborn takes the first solo which is followed by some nice tenor from Herman Green. Newborn’s fleet single note runs are deftly and imaginatively delivered here and on the modal The Streetwalker’s Stroll, with Donald Brown’s post-bop piano providing the foundation with Mr. Green heard on flute while Thompson plays some fiery trumpet. One cannot forget bassist London Branch and drummer Renardo Ward who keep the pulse moving along as well.

On Newborn Blues, Calvin’s late night, down-in-the-alley guitar is backed by Woods’ greasy organ and the rhythm section as he displays how good a blues player he is, while a Latin flavor is present on Spirit Trane/Omnifarious, which features some nice horn voicings. There is some lovely guitar on Lush Life (what a beautiful tone Newborn provides here), while After Hours Blues, a marvelous slow instrumental inspired by the classic After Hours, features some more strong blues playing.

A marvelous return to the recording world by a guitarist whose reputation is far less than the quality of his music.

For purposes of FTC regulations, Yellow Dog Records provided me with a review copy of this.

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