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June 2004

David "Fathead" Newman
Song for the New Man
HighNote Records

Though he's long since transcended his "Texas tenor" roots, David "Fathead" Newman's records still manage to consistently convey that big, flavorful Lone Star sound: booming but never bombastic, well-done but not overdone.

For this latest outing, the multireed player has assembled just the kind of team to handle this wide range of standards and originals: The propulsive drops of veteran drummer Jimmy Cobb; the bouncy, almost trippy bass of Newman's longtime sideman John Menegon; John Hicks' subtle but authoritative piano breaks; and Curtis Fuller's head-on trombone.

Song for the New Man begins its confident ramble with a nod to Newman's bop roots, a delightful midtempo reading of Charlie Parker's "Visa." His devotion to melody is neatly counterpointed by Fuller's more hard-charging solos, which shows up again in a similar manner to the Newman-Menegon exchanges on "Shakubu."

In the mood for romance? The gentle reading of "When I Fall in Love" should recall your first slow dance and other such milestones. At the other end of the spectrum, the wistful title track (with Newman on flute) and "Passing Through" (a Herbie Mann original done in tribute to the late world-beat pioneer) slows the tempo but without diminishing the textural variety.

Two other "Fathead" originals feature textural variety in spades. "Fast Lane" is the unabashedly fun track on the album, featuring yet another frenzied yet friendly duel between Newman and Fuller. "Lonesome Head" is a slight shift in gear, bluesier than its predecessor but no less dynamic.

Song for the New Man is a forthright rebuttal to the notion that an album with no overriding theme, no avant-garde experimentation and no scale-beating vocalist will be humdrum. This is hugely satisfying jazz playing with a verve and polish all its own.

Originally published in June 2004
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