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May 2005

David "Fathead" Newman
I Remember Brother Ray
HighNote Records

David "Fathead" Newman joined the Ray Charles band in 1954 and stayed a decade. In 1958, Charles produced Fathead: Ray Charles Presents David Newman, the saxophonist and flutist's debut album. Now, with Charles' death, Newman salutes his former boss and mentor with an album of personal highlights of their collaboration.

Newman's dark, dry tone, soulful phrasing and vibrato, and cool manner of falling off notes in this all-tenor date are mighty inviting. His playing on "Drown in My Tears" has more inherent soulfulness than a dozen over-the-top tenor players straining to blow the roof off. And "Georgia" (Newman played flute on Charles' hit version) is warm balladry with taste and class-and more soul. "When Your Lover Has Gone" and "'Deed I Do" (both from Charles' final album for Atlantic) swing straightahead and include superlative rhythm-section support from vibist Steve Nelson, pianist John Hicks, bassist John Menegon and drummer Winard Harper. "Hit the Road, Jack" offers Newman's minor-key, Texas tenor bluesiness and speech-like phrasing.

These are all fine performances. They demonstrate that economy and nuance can carry plenty of emotional juice. They also suggest why Charles held Newman in such high regard.

Originally published in May 2005
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