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Calvin Newborn: New Born & UpCity

Jerry D'Souza By

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Calvin Newborn
New Born
Yellow Dog Records

The name Newborn is synonymous with Memphis just as Presley or King or Hayes is. The Patriarch Phineas (Finas) had two sons, Phineas and Calvin. The first made the piano his instrument of choice, the second took to playing the guitar. In sum they were one of the leading families of jazz in Memphis. Music took the brothers to New York. On his return to Memphis, Calvin found that the musical landscape had changed. He made the best of the situation, earning a degree, teaching, writing plays and recording a couple of albums. The last was more of an addendum to a career than the pivot. That could well change with the release of New Born and the national distribution of UpCity which Newborn had released in 1998 on his label, Omnifarious.

Newborn's washes many of his compositions in different shades of the blues. When he goes beyond that, he dwells on the harmonies of jazz, lets funk waft across, and adds that unique air called the Memphis Sound. It is a blend that beckons without reservation. A loquacious player, he can shift mood with edgy notes that cut a deep swath or turn in some ripe, juicy ones that flesh the progression. This is seen to advantage on the late night groove of "After Hours Blues" which Newborn escorts with a cutting edge as Charlie Wood's organ primes the base. Newman shifts time and space, notes dancing on a lonely highway. The mood is enhanced by exclamations from Wood and the rhythmic impetus of Renardo Ward on drums. Newborn lends an incipient beauty to "Lush Life", his notes breathing in the arms of imaginative chords. The bright snap of "When Kingdom Comes/ Sho' Nuff" is lit by Newborn, the spark radiated by the big, bold colors of Scott Thompson on trumpet and then the supple saxophone of Herman Green coming in to complete the capture.



Calvin Newborn
UpCity
Yellow Dog Records

The music on UpCity was recorded at two sessions, in New York and in Memphis. The former was comprised of a quintet with Tony Reedus, Charles Thomas, Bill Easley, Bill Mobley and Jamil Nasser with Newborn, the latter had Tony Thomas and Tom Lonardo. One of the most captivating tunes comes in the form of his "Visions". Newborn works the melody with finesse, playing it to its deepest felt, turning the groove to swing and then changing the tack with chunky, propulsive chords to cue in Thomas, who funks and shunts on the B-3, and Lonardo who feeds the pulse with a forge of rhythmic energy. The quintet kicks out the jams when "Rhythm Makes the Heart Grow Fonder". This one pounds along to the bass kick of Reedus, as Easley lays it on the line with his tenor, Newborn turns in some flatted notes and those that sit up and sing and Charles Thomas completes the snare on a snap-happy piano. And what a piece of Memphis blended funk "A Piece of the Pie" turns out to be! Easley on tenor sax and Mobley on trumpet jut in and spike Newborn's delightfully melodic play. Easley comes back to lay bold splashes, Newborn adds some vibrant hues and Mobley swipes in with quick shrapnel that he balances with supple lines.

It's nice having Calvin Newborn back.

New Born

Track listing: When Kingdom Comes/Sho' Nuff; The Streetwalker's Stroll; Newborn Blues; Spirit Trane/Omnifarious; Lush Life; Restorations; After Hours Blues; Blues & Beyond

Personnel: Calvin Newborn-guitar; Donald Brown-piano; Charlie Wood-organ; London Branch-bass; Renardo Ward-drums; Herman Green-sax/ flute; Scott Thompson-trumpet; Ekpe Obioto-talking drums

UpCity

Track listing: UpCity; Them New Blues; Song for Basie; Vision; Rhythm Makes the Heart Grow Stronger; Seventh Heaven; A Piece of the Pie; Newborn Blues; Ubiquity; Going Home

Personnel: Calvin Newborn-guitar; Tony Reedus-drums; Tony Thomas-organ; Tom Lonardo-drums; Charles Thomas-piano; Jamil Nasser-contra bass; Bill Easley-tenor sax, flute; Bill Mobley-trumpet, flugelhorn, arranger


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