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Calvin Newborn: New Born

While pianist Phineas Newborn eventually moved from his Memphis home to make waves in New York City and record a couple dozen LPs as a leader, his younger brother, guitarist Calvin, stuck to Beale Street and never grabbed wide attention, despite his participation on some early B.B. King sessions as well as stints with his brother, Earl Hines, Lionel Hampton and others. Chances are slim in this late age that New Born will make Calvin a star, but it’s not without its merit and charms.

After a stilted organ-jam opener, the album offers its best cut, “The Streetwalker’s Stroll,” a kind of freewheeling modal excursion where Herman Green’s warbling flute, Scott Thompson’s curt trumpet musings and Newborn’s curmudgeonly riffing teem in an Andrew Hill kind of stew. If his chops aren’t outright dazzling, Newborn at least proves that, at 78, he’s still full of ideas. He wants to tackle it all here: straightahead swing (“Restorations”), standards (“Lush Life”) and the moaning Memphian blues (“After Hours Blues”). But that’s New Born’s failing point: Most any of these tracks holds up on its own, but together they’re an unfocused and odd-tasting mixed-genre soup.

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