Phineas Newborn, Jr.

Solo Piano

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This 1975 release is from the period when Phineas Newborn -- who battled health problems throughout his career -- had resumed recording and performing following a hiatus from extensive public activity. The set of solo performances faithfully documents the prodigious technique that first gained the pianist recognition in the 1950s. Newborn's technical skills were an inextricable part of a musical character anchored in high drama and passages overflowing with a frothing torrent of notes. While in ensemble settings Newborn could be an elegant accompanist in the style of Hank Jones or Tommy Flanagan, his command of the piano more accurately compares with Art Tatum's and Oscar Peterson's (the overstuffed performances that dominate Solo Piano also show he was prone to their excesses). Erroll Garner is another kindred spirit, whose crowd-wowing mannerisms have similarities with Newborn's approach. Like Garner, Newborn tends to hit the climactic moments early and stay there, foregoing development and dynamics. The exception on Solo Piano is Newborn's nuanced handling of the ballad "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set," where he reins in the chops and creates a seven-minute oasis of refined beauty. Newborn is not alone in crowding his unaccompanied work with epic statements; the same tendency occurs in the solo performances of bop-based players such as Hampton Hawes and Barry Harris. Where Newborn differs, though, is in his relentless recourse to a virtuosity of near-histrionic proportions, which he pursues on this set at the expense of swinging, harmonic imagination, and subtlety.

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