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Still Hard Times

David Newman

Still Hard Times
(Muse)

Still Hard Times



David Newman, tenor sax; Hank Crawford, Alto Sax; Howard Johnson, bari sax;
Charlie Miller, trumpet; Steve Nelson, vibes; Larry Willis, piano;
Walter Booker, bass; Jimmy Cobb, drums.

1. Shana [mp3] (Newman) 4:55
2. Blisters (Crawford) 5:08
3. One For My Baby (Mercer-Arlen) 5:55
4. To Love Again (Crawford) 4:55
5. Still Hard Times (Newman) 6:00
6. Please Send Me Someone (Mayfield) 5:47
Produced by MICHAEL CUSCUNA
Cover Photo by HUGH BELL
Recording by VINCE TRAINA
Recorded on April 14, 1982


This recording, Still Hard Times, is David "Fathead" Newman's second outing on the Muse label and is some of the best "Fathead" in years. If you know the man's work then you will immediately recognize from whence comes the inspiration for this recording--that mighty, mighty seven-piece outfit which Ray Charles, "The High Priest of Soul," led from 1954 until he organized a full scale big band in 1961. That first Charles band was a crossover/fusion group if there ever was one. It was at ease and successful with blues, rhythm-'n-blues and jazz. Few aggregations, then or now, can claim such fluency. Of course, in those days, rigid categories didn't mean as much as they do today. Unfortunately, because we now tend to pidgeonhole music--both past and present--the significance of that band in jazz has become somewhat obscure. If Still Hard Times did nothing more than remind us of what a special sound the early Charles bands had and the unique way Charles had of voicing his horns it would be welcome.

Besides Charles, there aren't many more people, more qualified, to create music in the spirit of the Charles septets than "Fathead" and his chief collaborator here, arranger/composer/saxophonist, Hank Crawford. Newman was the band's star soloist for ten years--from its inception through 1964, when he left the band--and again when he returned for a brief period around 1970.

"Still Hard Times" is "Fathead's" tune. It alludes, of course, to the original "Hard Times," the big hit from Newman's first effort as a leader, Fathead: Ray Charles Introduces David Newman (Atlantic). If I had to come up with yet another Newman nickname it would be "The Blue Bopper." "Still Hard Times" is why. Newman's other contribution, "Shana," [mp3] --which means pretty in Yiddish--is a medium, blue swinger and a perfect showcase for "Fathead's" Texas-style tenor. Listen for what the late, great Cannonball Adderley called the "moan inside the tone".

"Blisters" and "To Love Again" were both written and arranged by Crawford. A chance for Newman, Crawford and pianist Larry Willis to blow. "Blisters" is jazz/blues ala Charles with a taste of big band dynamics. A gorgeous ballad, "To Love Again" is a full-blown arrangement which shows off both Crawford's consummate skill with the pen and the lush, sensuous side of Newman's playing. Once again Crawford gets a big . . . big sound with just seven pieces.

Newman chose "One For My Baby"--that venerable old Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen line--because he's especially comfortable with the way it lays on his soprano. Although "Fathead" stays fairly close to the melody here, his playing is no less soulful. Sharing the solo space with Newman is Steve Nelson, an exciting young vibraphonist from Pittsburgh.

"Fathead" dedicates "Please Send Me Someone To Love" to its author, Percy Mayfield. Charles' book featured a lot of Mayfield's songs and Newman has always admired Mayfield's writing. On this one "Fathead" turns flutist; Nelson is back on vibes; and Crawford delivers the gospel on alto. The final flute/alto exchange is what Charles would call "filthy."

"Fathead" and Steve Nelson played together during a clinic at Stockton State College, near Atlantic City. That's all "Fathead" needed. As soon as Newman got this date he called Nelson. The baritone assignment couldn't be in better hands than those of Howard Johnson who has done everything from avant-garde to Broadway to Saturday Night Live. To handle the trumpet parts Newman tapped ft very capable Charles Miller with whom he has become well acquainted in the Swamp Jam band.

The original idea for this session was to assemble a Ray-Charies-reunion band. Schedules proved too difficult to coordinate so Newman did the next best thing--organized a crack pick-up band around a super rhythm section. Pianist Larry Willis, bassist Walter Booker, and drummer Jimmy Cobb have an excellent reputation around New York as a trio and nationally as the heart of Nat Adderley's working band. Each has his own impressive list of credits. Willis has done time with Jackie McLean, Hugh Masekela, Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson, among others. Booker worked with Cannonball Adderley, as well as Nat, not to mention Ray Bryant, Betty Carter, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Joe Williams and on and on. Cobb's resume is no less impressive: Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, and Wes Montgomery.

I can't end this without a bit of trivia. I know you know that "Fathead" apprenticed with Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker. But did you know he played in the same Red Connors bebop band with Ornette Coleman?

--W.A. BROWER, from the liner notes.




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