On this Highnote set, master saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman digs back into the past for standards from the worlds of film, pop, jazz, and theater. The disc is named after a composition by the late pianist John Hicks, a familiar companion on a number of Newman dates over the past ten years, who passed away in 2006. The album is dedicated to his memory. David Leonhardt is in the piano chair on this date, along with drummer Yoron Israel, bassist John Menegon, guitarist Peter Bernstein, and vibraphonist Steve Nelson. The album opens with a beautiful reading of Neal Hefti's classic "Girl Talk." Newman's tenor is big, warm, and expressive in the grand Texas tradition. His melodic improvisation on the theme, though, is something that comes from his beginnings with Ray Charles and that has been molded and refined ever since. The flute makes its first appearance on the Hicks number with its bluesy changes. Newman takes the first solo, followed briefly by Nelson and then Leonhardt. The tune is relaxed but tight. There's a gorgeous, swinging Latin backbeat here as Israel just dances over the cymbals and snare. The enormity and depth of Newman's main horn are heard on Burt Bacharach's "Alfie," adapted from the Dionne Warwick single version and beautifully elucidated upon, with a stellar reading of the nuance in the melody. As the rhythm section enters, Newman's playing soul, deep and slow, à la Ben Webster in feel, but the phrasing is no one's but his own. To go from these three tunes to Gershwin is a jump on any session, but that's exactly what the band does on "I Can't Get Started." The tune is taken in a mellow, easy groove; and the vibes/guitar intro that leads into Newman's flute is a sweet touch. What's most remarkable here is the intuitive grasp that each of these players has on the other. This is as fluid a date as one is likely to come across in the 21st century. Newman's trademark restraint gives way to something here, and that something is a sheer symbiosis, brining out each player's melodic, rhythmic and harmonic sense along with his own. Whether the program is Ellington's "Come Sunday," from the "Black Brown & Beige Suite," bebop era nuggets "Autumn in New York" and "Old Folks," played on the alto, or his readings of "What a Wonderful World" -- a fitting instrumental counterpart to the Louis Armstrong vocal version -- or John Coltrane's "Naima," that closes the disc, taste, elegance and soul are the trademarks of everything here. Indeed, as evidenced by Life, Newman's able to turn the trick back inside out and seek new ground inside ballads and standards rather than radically revisioning them. He has always been a player of great feeling and economy, but here, he takes his gifts to an entirely different level. Just beautiful.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek