David "Fathead" Newman – House of David (1993)

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NICK DERISO: Take some time with this one, which underscores the impressive contributions of a guy who first blew us away backing up with bluesman ZuZu Bollin, later came to fame playing a sideman’s role with Ray Charles, made some bold moves in jazz — then settled into R&B and pop-influenced fusion.

This two-disc anthology does a good job of exploring all these many permutations, and throws in a few surprises as well: There’s Newman siding with Aaron Neville, with Aretha Franklin (on Disc 2’s hottest moment, “Ramblin'”) and, finally, Dr. John.

Make no mistake, however, Fathead — a nickname given to Newman after he goofed on his scales while practicing as a kid — is an involving leader as well, heard on “House of David” fronting both small bands and larger, expressive configurations.

“Fathead Comes On” from 1963, displayed here on the tune “Esther’s Melody,” was a tough jazz recording in the Blue Note style. Even better are tracks from the “Straight Ahead” release of 1960, where Newman sits in with the drop-jaw rhythm section with Miles Davis connections including Wyn Kelly, Paul Chambers and Charlie Persip.

Still, for my money, I’ll always stick with the rollicking, awfully fun Ray Charles-period recordings, confined exclusively to Disc 1. Newman made the seminal 1958 Newport Jazz Festival appearance with Charles then, a year later, he was first recorded in a purely jazz context, fronting the Count Basie Band.

Newman’s reputation as bluesy, but sizzling soloist was secured. So much so that he made a solo record the same year, the aptly titled “Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman.” Three tracks from that fine record are included on “House of David.”

Later, Newman would leave the Charles band, tour incessantly, retire, then return with a much more pop-oriented sound. He’d hinted, after all, at a penchant for popular stylings, as heard in his version of the Beatles “Yesterday” on this disc, then subsequently on tracks like “Chained No More.”

Newman seemed to be on a career path similar to Stanley Turrentine, who made amazing if embryonic sides early in his career, some truly revelatory recordings in his mid-period and then sank into the placid waters of commercialism later on.

The truth is, though, that Newman hadn’t stopped experimenting, notably during late-career collaborations with Dr. John, including the celebrated “Bluesiana” project and on “Candy” from Dr. John’s “In a Sentimental Mood” release, included on this CD.

Newman had righted his career. And not a moment to soon.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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