David "Fathead" Newman

Lonely Avenue/Newmanism

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These two sessions from reed player David Newman -- originally issued by Atlantic in 1972 and 1974 -- accomplish the tough job of retaining musical integrity in the midst of clearly commercial leanings. The result is performances, which, at their best, are definitive R&B-driven soul-jazz from this era. Unlike too many of their contemporaries working this vein, Newman and producer Joel Dorn eschew the easy temptation to bolt on backup singers, canned string sections, and static, ersatz grooves. Instead, the music builds on lean, articulate rhythm sections to support accessible, melodic tunes, a few of which drift by in a forgettable haze, but an equal number of which have staying power and sustain interest. On tenor, Newman plays with an incisive, no-nonsense delivery that is tailor-made for these settings. On flute, he calls to mind the work of Yusef Lateef and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, both of whom were labelmates with Newman at Atlantic during this period. Vibist Roy Ayers is prominent both as an arranger and player. While he adds useful colors and textures to the rhythm section, as a soloist his work is busy. There are some classic, cavernous, chiming Fender Rhodes sounds from Pat Rebillot, along with rubbery, in-the-pocket electric bass from Ron Carter. Cornell Dupree's wah-wahed rhythm guitar is another welcome ingredient in the mix. The highlights include the intense funk of Ayers' "Fire Weaver" and his strutting "Foxy Brown"; Rebillot's "Song for the New Man," a flute feature; and Newman's own "Newmanism," the most straight-ahead track on the set. It is on this track that Newman's commercial appeal and musical integrity are in perfect equilibrium, a state attained by only a few of his contemporaries -- Grover Washington, Jr. and Stanley Turrentine being the two most notable.

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