David "Fathead" Newman: Diamondhead (2009)
Diamondhead is the ninth of David "Fathead" Newman's HighNote recordings (not the seventh, as the disc's notes state) and it's a typically enjoyable outing of soulful bop with no surprises but some exceedingly fine playing that holds up well after multiple listens. Pianist Cedar Walton is Newman's trump card here and a real asset to the group's groove. Both these Texas natives go back to Lee Morgan's Sonic Boom (Blue Note, 1968) and the pianist was first featured on Newman's own Resurgence (Muse, 1980). They make for a formidable partnership on this, their third meeting on a Newman disc. Another key ingredient is underrated veteran trombonist Curtis Fuller on four of the more up-tempo numbers. Fuller first recorded with Newman on the under-appreciated Song For The New Man (HighNote, 2003) and has a close partnership with Walton that dates back to their time in Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.
As always, the best tunes here are the Newman originals. First, there's the acoustic funk of the title track, which reworks Eddie Harris' "Listen Here" groove into a tribute. Everyone really works up a heady bit of steam here, including drummer Yoron Israel who seems to be in the right place at the right time throughout the disc. Newman pays sweet homage to Harris and Walton hasn't sounded this funky since his Prestige days. There's also the spritely "My Full House," a newly-titled version of "Lonesome Head" that Newman debuted on a 1994 Winard Harper album and later performed, also with Curtis Fuller, on Song For The New Man. Finally, there's the delightfully clever "Mama Lou," which hasn't been heard on disc since its inception on Newman's Resurgence, which also featured Walton.
A highlight of any jazz set featuring Walton is one of the pianist's own compositions and, fortunately, the wonderfully playful "Cedar's Blues" is heard here (the composer recorded it with Curtis Fuller on a 1985 Red album of the same name). This is a good old-fashioned bit of foot-tapping, finger-snapping jazz in the Messengers tradition. It's a wonder to hear these veterans in fine fettle, with chops still intact, tackle exciting music like this and stirring the fire so admirably.
Newman also covers some inevitable jazz warhorses ("Skylark," "Star Eyes" and "It's You or No One) and redeems Billy Joel's surprisingly tuneful "New York State of Mind," throwing some tasty song quotes into his solos too. Unfortunately, he limits his tremendously exciting flute playing here only to "Mama Lou" and the first half of "New York." Maybe one day he'll consider doing an all-flute album, even at the risk of alienating those who rightly love the majestic soul of his sax playing.
David "Fathead" Newman has had a remarkably consistent recording career over the last half century (and markedly prolific since signing onto HighNote) and Diamondhead is one of the purest of pleasures in his capacious catalog.
Track Listing: Diamondhead; Can't We Be Friends?; New York State Of Mind; Cedar's Blues; My Full House; Skylark; Star Eyes; Mama-Lou; It's You Or No One.
Personnel: David "Fathead" Newman: tenor sax, alto sax, flute; Curtis Fuller: trombone (1, 4, 5, 9); Cedar Walton: piano; Peter Washington: bass; Yoron Israel: drums.