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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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The Blessing

HighNote HCD 7195



  1. SKJ
  2. Someone to Watch Over Me
  3. As Time Goes By
  4. Manha de Carnival
  5. Smile
  6. Romantic Night
  7. Chelsea Bridge
  8. Whispers of Contentment
  9. The Blessing
David 'Fathead' Newman - Tenor sax, flute
Steve Nelson - Vibes
David Leonhardt - Piano
Peter Bernstein - Guitar
John Menegon - Bass
Yoron Israel - Drums

De mortuis nil nisi bonum. So it seems unfair to call someone "Fathead" after they have died. But the nickname dates back to David Newman's school days and has somehow become inseparable from him. However, as I pointed out when I reviewed his 2007 album Life, he was certainly no fathead but one of that long line of Texan saxists who (in the words of James Clay) "are known for playing in a raunchy, straightforward manner, with lots of emotion and few frills".

Newman developed his style while playing for bluesmen like T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson in the early 1960s and then from his long stint with Ray Charles's orchestra. Yet Newman's playing on this CD is not particularly raunchy - which is understandable, as he recorded the album last December, only a month before he died of pancreatic cancer. His playing may be more subdued than previously but this allows us to savour his wonderfully warm, furry tone - which raises unavoidable comparisons with Ben Webster. Understandably also, he doesn't take many extended solos but when he does - as on Romantic Night - he produces a sound that is a joy to hear.

Because many of David's solos are short, attention often focuses on the other members of his band, among whom pianist David Leonhardt and guitarist Peter Bernstein are outstanding. Vibist Steve Nelson also deserves mention, although his solos seem less focused than those of the other musicians.

Yet the main attraction of this album is the leader, who proves that he can still be forthright as well as poetic - most memorably in his interpretation of Billy Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge. He displays his blues roots in Milt Jackson's SKJ and sticks close to the melody in numbers like As Time Goes By. The title-track is a Newman original and appropriately rounds off a cherishable album as David plays the flute with hints of the blues.

The album is well-titled, as David Newman has blessed listeners' lives with music that is unpretentious and true to itself.

Tony Augarde 

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