David Newman: Lone Star Legend
Since his heyday in Ray Charles' horn section in the 50s, David Newman has released two dozen albums of some of the swingin'-est soul jazz ever heard. Even when he flirted with funk in the late 60s and disco in the late 70s, Newman never veered far from the soul that powered his distinctive tenor growl. He has one of the most recognizable and down-n-dirty sounds on flute too. And his soprano playing is one of the most enjoyable sounds out there. Call it that Texas swing. What is it about the Lone Star state that produces such dynamic jazz and dynamite players?
Lone Star Legend pairs two straight-ahead sessions Michael Cuscuna produced for Muse in the early 80s. The first, Resurgence (recorded 9/23/80), has never appeared on CD before and features Marcus Belgrave on trumpet and flugelhorn, Ted Dunbar on guitar, Cedar Walton on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Louis Hayes on drums. It's the better of the two sessions, but the other session is hardly a dud. It comes from the album, Still Hard Times (a 4/14/82 session first issued on CD in 1989 with three extra alternate takes not included here) featuring former former Charles band mate Hank Crawford on alto (and charts), Howard Johnson on baritone sax, Charlie Miller on trumpet, Larry Willis on piano, Walter Booker on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
Resurgence benefits greatly from the contributions of Cedar Walton, another Texas jazzman, and the great Marcus Belgrave. Both are capable of playing anything and making it sound goodand they both make Newman sound even better than usual. Ted Dunbar swings nicely here too. Hank Crawford's "Carnegie Blues" (with Walton on electric piano), Belgrave's "Akua Ewie" and Walton's slower-than-usual "To The Holy Land" let Newman lay into an easy bop groove that brims with Texas soul. These tunes will soothe whether or not you are into the groove or just tapping your foot while doing something else. Newman contributes two slow, swinging blues, including the wonderful "Mama Lou, " which finds the reed player preaching on flute (a personal favorite). Each tune allows the principals to make the most of the proceedings and swing with relaxed flair.
The title of the 1982 record refers the hit from Newman's first record (Ray Charles Presents David "Fathead" Newman 1958), "Hard Times," which also featured Hank Crawford and Marcus Belgrave. But it is probably most aptly significant to Newman's lack of critical respect and popular success by 1982. Unfortunately, a decade and half later very little has changed. But it's nice to hear this tenor master paired with Hank Crawford again. The pair, which subsequently teamed up on Newman's 1986 disc, Fire! , and Crawford's recent Tight, tackle two Newman originals, two Crawford numbers (including the cooker, "Blisters") and two less-than-familiar standards. The playing if flawless and, naturally, highlights the interplay and rapport of Newman and Crawford. Howard Johnson and Larry Willis buoys it all nicely from beneathalthough it would be hard to identify either in their roles here. One of the nicest surprises, though, is the infrequent appearance of Steve Nelson, who blends perfectly with Newman on the excellent blues of "One For My Baby" and "Please Send Me Someone To Love."
They weren't making much music like this in jazz during the early 1980s. And It's good that Joel Dorn, who recently bought the Muse catalog and produced David Newman's best Atlantic records (1967-1974) and two Warner Brothers albums (1976-1977), has rescued these classic sessions for today's ears. This is solid, soulful jazz worth hearing.