Picks and Pans Review: Fire!

updated 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/26/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

David Newman (Live at the Village Vanguard)

Since first coming to prominence during the early '50s as a sideman with Ray Charles, tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman has never strayed far from his rhythm-and-blues roots. Like Charles, Newman avoids fancy pyrotechnics. His music is straight-ahead, soulful and full of natural fire.

This session, surprisingly, is Newman's first live recording as a leader. Joined by his working band—vibraphonist Steve Nelson, pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist David Williams and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith—Newman maintains a congenial mood reminiscent of an old-fashioned Southern barbecue. The group gets the charcoals glowing with a loping rendition of "Old Devil Moon." Then Newman throws fat on the incipient fire during a spontaneous jamfest with two old buddies from his early years on the chitlin circuit: tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine and alto saxophonist Hank Crawford. Turrentine sheds the pop veneer which has characterized his music of late and plays some stomping blues with Newman on "Wide Open Spaces." Crawford, Newman's longtime mate in the Charles band, has a terse, penetrating style that serves as a perfect foil to Newman's light, breathy approach to the mournful "Lonely Avenue."

Saddled with the nickname "Fathead" as a teen, Newman is a self-deprecating man whose talents have long been underrated. But when he gets down to hard honking, as he does effectively here on "Blues for Ball" and "Hard Times," his music crackles with a combustible energy that threatens to erupt into a multialarm blaze at any moment. (Atlantic)

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