David "Fathead" Newman

The Blessing

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The Blessing Review

by Ken Dryden

David "Fathead" Newman's final recording session took place just a few weeks before his death from pancreatic cancer. Although he obviously doesn't exhibit the power heard on his earlier recordings, like Charlie Rouse and Stan Getz before him (fellow cancer victims who recorded not long prior to their deaths), Newman more than holds his own throughout the date, joined by vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist David Leonhart, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist John Menegon, and drummer Yoron Israel. In the opener, Milt Jackson's tasty blues "SKJ," Newman takes a soft-spoken approach that follows the old adage that less is often more. His lush take of "As Time Goes By" features Nelson first, then his heartfelt vibrato at the end of each line adds a sentimental air. The fresh, exotic approach to Charlie Chaplin's tearjerker ballad "Smile" has the flavor of a tropical island paradise. "Chelsea Bridge" seems all but owned by the late tenor giant Ben Webster, so Newman simultaneously salutes his predecessor while putting a bit of his own touch to it. The final track, "The Blessing," an original by the leader, is a funky feature for his flute, with just a touch of gospel. Newman benefited from frequent recording opportunities with HighNote during his last years, and he went on top with this fine effort.

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