301

David "Fathead" Newman at Pearl's

Forrest Dylan Bryant By

Sign in to view read count
Newman caressed and gently sculpted his melodies, making every note count.
David "Fathead" Newman
Jazz at Pearl's
San Francisco, CA
January 22, 2006

When David "Fathead" Newman picks up his weathered tenor saxophone and begins to blow, he doesn't compel you to listen with a towering tone or crazy acrobatics. He does it by connecting with his music on a human level, embodying a depth of feeling that suffuses the atmosphere of the room. You can't help but breathe it in.

Newman comes from a world in which the lines between straight-ahead jazz, the blues, and dance music were blurred into irrelevance. He began his career backing up post-WWII R&B stars like Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker, and famously anchored the Ray Charles band through Charles' explosive hit-making period in the late '50s and early '60s. Although his solo career, which began in 1958, has been generally bop oriented, he has never lost touch with that fertile, cross-pollinated musical ground from which he first sprung.

In the last of three nights at the cozy Jazz at Pearl's in San Francisco, just a few days before the release of his new CD, Cityscape (for HighTone Records), Newman glided through seven tunes in a first set full of grace and charm. From the opening notes of "On Green Dolphin Street," which Newman began in a downy-soft but soulful whisper, Newman caressed and gently sculpted his melodies in rounded tones with just a hint of gruffness at the center, making every note count.

Newman was joined on this gig by a pick-up band of local talent: Tammy Hall on piano, Michael Zisman on bass and Akira Tana on drums. Hall's blend of elegance and down- home feeling was an especially good fit for Newman's sound; her solo on "Green Dolphin Street" was thick and rich as chocolate syrup, and on the following tune ("Delilah"), she jumped easily between uptown luxury and Latin grease.

"Delilah" was the first of two tunes that Newman tackled on flute, and he gave the haunting melody a surprisingly snappy tempo. Thrusting and parrying, Newman juxtaposed sustained vibrato with rapid, tumbling figures, while Tana mounted a surgical strike on the tune's rhythmic core.

Newman is at his best on ballads, and Duke Pearson's "Cristo Redentor," with Newman moving to alto sax, was one of the night's highlights. Taken at a slow marching tempo, with lush textural embellishments from Tana, the tune had its religious underpinnings laid bare by Newman's solid alto phrases, which were part urban confidence, part plaintive cry. Hall's full-bodied, gospel-laced solo completed the evocation.

The band topped itself on Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," as Newman, back on tenor, simply nailed the composer's poignant vulnerability. In a tender, gripping solo, Newman chose unusual notes that walked a knife's edge of solidity, often threatening to topple and shatter. Hall added a sense of melancholy optimism, as if soothing a worried brow while holding back tears, then thrust the melody upwards to blossom like the flower of the title.

Zisman got right to the point with melodic, almost sing-song solos on "Green Dolphin Street" and a strutting version of "Bags' Groove," and Tana closed the set with channeled intensity in a thunderous drum solo on "A Night in Tunisia," the only piece in which the 72-year-old Newman seemed to show his age. If his recent string of excellent recordings weren't enough, this night was further evidence that Newman still has plenty to say.

Shop

More Articles

Read Vossajazz 2017 Live Reviews Vossajazz 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: April 23, 2017
Read Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ Live Reviews Hermeto Pascoal at SFJAZZ
by Harry S. Pariser
Published: April 21, 2017
Read Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights Live Reviews Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson at JazzNights
by David A. Orthmann
Published: April 18, 2017
Read Tallinn Music Week 2017 Live Reviews Tallinn Music Week 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: April 16, 2017
Read Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017
by Francesco Martinelli
Published: April 14, 2017
Read Miles From India at SFJAZZ Live Reviews Miles From India at SFJAZZ
by Walter Atkins
Published: April 14, 2017
Read "Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017" Live Reviews Bergamo Jazz Festival 2017
by Francesco Martinelli
Published: April 14, 2017
Read "2016 Detroit Jazz Festival" Live Reviews 2016 Detroit Jazz Festival
by C. Andrew Hovan
Published: September 18, 2016
Read "The Donny McCaslin Group at The Arden Gild Hall" Live Reviews The Donny McCaslin Group at The Arden Gild Hall
by Mike Jacobs
Published: January 25, 2017
Read "Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016" Live Reviews Mary Ellen Desmond: Comfort and Joy Concert 2016
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: December 17, 2016
Read "Richie Buckley With The Scott Flanigan Trio @ The Sunflower, Belfast" Live Reviews Richie Buckley With The Scott Flanigan Trio @ The...
by Ian Patterson
Published: February 19, 2017

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!