Too often soul jazz veterans get locked into their soulful groove and end up as little more than lounge-act versions of themselves. Consider any Hank Crawford disc from the last fifteen years, or Bob Porter's continuing series of pointless Milestone productions. The best you can hope for is a signature sound covering the latest R & B hits.
Then there's one of jazz's most soulful players, David "Fathead" Newman, a Crawford ally from the famed Ray Charles big band of the late 1950s and early 1960s. He's made plenty of soulful records on his own (most significantly for the Atlantic label between 1958 and 1973) - and a staggering number of soulful sessions too. But, like Stanley Turrentine, Newman often compliments his soulful menus with more appetizing fare such as bop, blues and, notably, ballads.
Indeed, since leaving Atlantic he's recorded some of his most notable music. These include 1980's Resurgence, 1982's Still Hard Times, 1988's Fire!, 1989's Blue Head and, now, Chillin', Newman's newest and his debut for the High Note label.
This compelling, easily enjoyable set shows the many sides of David Newman's personality - and his distinctive and vital talents on a variety of reed instruments too. Newman's quintet hinges, as it has for at least the last decade, on the appealing rhythmic underpinning of vibraphone (so much so, in fact, that John Hicks barely seems present on piano). Manning the vibes is Bryan Carrott, a ringer for his predecessor in Newman's band, Steve Nelson. He's got a brash confidence and soulful personality that recalls the lamented Lem Winchester's. He's also resourceful enough - whether by accident or design to accept a sort of co-leadership role with Newman that truly benefits both sounds.
Newman comes out swinging on tenor with a particularly rousing take on Ellington's "Take The Coltrane." He even suggests Turrentine a bit, positively swinging with pure musical abandon. Switching to his not oft-heard soprano, Newman gloriously explores the romantic Dimitri Tiomkin's ballad "Return To Paradise," which elicits quotes from "Camptown Races" and Newman's own Ray-era signature piece, "Hard Times."
However, the disc's most memorable pieces are surely the Newman originals. The funky "The Whole Tzimmes" (a bit of Yiddish which means a bit of everything) elicits some fine pronunciations from Newman, Carrot and Hicks while the deep blues of the title cut finds Newman absolutely glowing on alto sax (Carrot sparkles here too). Unfortunately, there's too little of Newman's fine and distinctive flute work here. But he is heard vamping on flute during an interesting take on "Caravan," one of two songs ("Red Top" is the other) featuring Newman's son, Cadino, on vocals.