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Fathead Newman's Bigger & Better


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#1 Larry Kart

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 11:29 AM

Picked up this compilation of two 1968-9 Atlantic albums for a song at Half-Price Books, opened it up and was a bit distressed to discover that these were seemingly very commercial Joel Dorn-produced dates -- two Beatles' covers, lotsa funk rhythms, strings sections etc. Actual listening dispelled much or all doubt, however -- Fathead is in fabulous passionate form throughout, the arguably commercial gestures seem to stimulate him further most of the time (that the funky drummers are Bernard Purdie or Bruno Carr certainly helps), there's some really tasty keyboard work from Joe Zawinul, and, for those who care, some lovely oboe playing by George Marge on "The Children of Abraham" (I mention this because it is lovely playing and also because Marge is misidentified as a member of the string section in the personnel listing). Maybe I'm nuts, but in some ways this music moved me more than any of the fine recent Fathead Highnote albums I've heard -- I think because there's a hard to define edge of hope to his playing here -- hope that he's about to make it big commercially while still remaining himself. That it didn't quite happen we know, but there's something about the way Fathead plays the bejesus out "Yesterday" and "And I Love Her" that's at once anomolous and thrilling, as though he doesn't know that he shouldn't be lavishing so much soul and zest on two Beatles covers. And, in that pocket of time, he was right to care that much in that way. At one point, listening to Fathead, I could imagine Bird playing those pieces more or less that way.

#2 kh1958

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 11:46 AM

From a few years later, also on Atlantic, Newmanism has long been a favorite. It has Roy Ayers (in exceedingly excellent form), Ron Carter, and Pat Rebillot. It has a tinge of the commercial (in the form of Rebillot's keyboards), but very passionate playing (for example, Foxey Brown).

Being from Dallas, I've gotten to see him play perhaps more than any other jazz musician. He's an undersung great.

#3 Hot Ptah

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 12:25 PM

Picked up this compilation of two 1968-9 Atlantic albums for a song at Half-Price Books, opened it up and was a bit distressed to discover that these were seemingly very commercial Joel Dorn-produced dates -- two Beatles' covers, lotsa funk rhythms, strings sections etc. Actual listening dispelled much or all doubt, however -- Fathead is in fabulous passionate form throughout, the arguably commercial gestures seem to stimulate him further most of the time (that the funky drummers are Bernard Purdie or Bruno Carr certainly helps), there's some really tasty keyboard work from Joe Zawinul, and, for those who care, some lovely oboe playing by George Marge on "The Children of Abraham" (I mention this because it is lovely playing and also because Marge is misidentified as a member of the string section in the personnel listing). Maybe I'm nuts, but in some ways this music moved me more than any of the fine recent Fathead Highnote albums I've heard -- I think because there's a hard to define edge of hope to his playing here -- hope that he's about to make it big commercially while still remaining himself. That it didn't quite happen we know, but there's something about the way Fathead plays the bejesus out "Yesterday" and "And I Love Her" that's at once anomolous and thrilling, as though he doesn't know that he shouldn't be lavishing so much soul and zest on two Beatles covers. And, in that pocket of time, he was right to care that much in that way. At one point, listening to Fathead, I could imagine Bird playing those pieces more or less that way.


I bought this at Half-Price Books three days ago, at a Kansas City store, which had several copies. They must get cut-outs from the labels and send them to all of their stores.

I have had reactions to this music very similar to Larry Kart's--I like it more than I thought I would. His playing on these albums is much more passionate than it was when I saw him in concert a few years ago.

#4 The Magnificent Goldberg

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Posted 07 August 2007 - 04:17 PM

I like "Bigger and better" better than "Many facets", though that one does have its moments. "Bigger and better was Fathead's first hit album, so he did get SOME commercial success out of it. It was also his biggest hit, made #42 on the R&B album charts.

Stan Turrentine's "Look of love" had been a hit a short time earlier. David's album is a LOT better than that! I think "Bigger & better" shows what could be done with a soulful sax and a largish bunch of string and horm players, arranged quite sparely. The real trouble was that, as time went on, more and more effort was put into the backings - "production values" - and this tended to detract too much from what the soloists were actually trying to get over. The only albums of that ilk that comes close to "Bigger and better" are Sonny Criss' "Warm & Sonny" and Blue Mitchell's "Summer soft", both of which were a decade or so later.

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#5 JSngry

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Posted 08 August 2007 - 10:23 AM

Hmmm...

I've ignored these sides (individually & collectively) for years, expecting relatively rote commercialism. Now I got Mssrs. Kart & Goldberg both effusing effusively.

Must be time to reconsider!

#6 Aggie87

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 02:31 PM

Also found this at my Half Price Books, and am enjoying Fathead's passionate playing. :tup

#7 The Magnificent Goldberg

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 03:18 PM

Hmmm...

I've ignored these sides (individually & collectively) for years, expecting relatively rote commercialism. Now I got Mssrs. Kart & Goldberg both effusing effusively.

Must be time to reconsider!


I think there's a big, or biggish, problem with this type of recording from the late sixties to the late seventies. The problem is with the orchestrations. They're mostly awful; awful in the sense that they tend to over ride what the soloist is doing. One feels that the soloist - who is our main reason for buying the album, after all, is constrained by the arrangement. And that they're not, therefore, playing what they feel as freely as they might with a small group. This leads to a conclusion that the music isn't as honest as it might or should be.

Now that's true. But it's only true to an extent. First, there are exceptions. "Bigger and better" is one of those, in which the arrangements are pretty spare and don't really seem to constrain Fathead - at least, not to the ear of a non-musician. Somewhat earlier than that period, Hank Crawford's "Soul of the ballad" is another.

Second, there is sometimes a positive benefit in constraints. I would expect musicians to appreciate this more than non-musicians.

Third, and this is the real killer for me, there are some musicians who, on some occasions, can rise above it all. Sonny Criss managed it on "Warm and Sonny". Fathead managed it on "Scratch my back", in which his solos absolutely SOAR over pure, mechanical disco music. Grant Green always seemed to manage it, but particularly on "Easy", his last recording. Blue Mitchell's "Summer soft" is another. And there are one or two Stanley Turrentine albums of that nature - one I was playing the other day with great satisfaction is "Everybody come on out".

Everything is wrong with these albums, from a jazz purist point of view. Not only are the arrangements intrusive and/or over-produced, but the material is what is usually described as "pop trash". And the packaging (except for "Scratch my back" of course) doesn't inspire.

Gotta go. My wife's turn on the PC

MG

OK - I didn't have too much more to say except that, if you want to appreciate some of these albums - and I don't mean specifically YOU Jim - you have to ditch some ideas about what jazz is supposed to be about. It's not like looking into a sow's ear to see if there's a silk purse in there; it's more like trying to get into a frame of mind that is attuned with the general non-jazz-loving population out there - the people who, in another era, bought Fat Waller records in huge quantities, and who, in the sixties and seventies, bought Motown recordings - NOT just, I hasten to add, the Stevie Wonders, but the Diana Rosses and Temps etc. Those albums were really AIMED at that market, not the jazz market. And that market responded. Lots of these albums were hits. Lots of them opened people's ears to music they wouldn't otherwise have considered.

MG

Edited by The Magnificent Goldberg, 02 September 2007 - 04:12 PM.


#8 JSngry

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Posted 02 September 2007 - 10:56 PM

Well, my biggest "problem" with a lot of "these type" records isn't as much with the arrangements or concision or production or anything like that. It's with the feeling I get that the main player(s) is/are just ain't feeling it, that they're faking it, or worse, not even trying to fake it, but are just playing ready-made gestures. And that is death to me.

Or sometimes I feel that the arrangements/production do get in the way, not so much because they're bad or inappropriate, but just because the player(s) aren't comfortable playing within that type structure & thise type confines. It's a seperate craft, that is, and as a result, a different art.

Now, Fathead has certainly been more than at-home all sorts of contexts & at all levels of "commerciality (my god, the one chorus obligatto - not even a solo - behind Donny Hathaway on "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" ranks right there with Prez behind Billie, and no, I do not exaggerate), so I guess my expectations were more the former - that Fathead just came to "make a record" on these dates, and not "to play". He's done it before, doncha' know. And frankly, none of the older guys who "were there" talk about those the way they do some of his other dates form all eras/styles (I remember talking w/Roger Boykin - who is not one to give even faint praise to routine effort - about Fathead, and when I mentioned that thing w/Donny, man, I though he was gonna cream his jeans. And yes, this time I do exaggerate. But only slightly.) So, ya' know, I just kinda thoght, "ehhhhhh......" and let 'em go.

But I'm heartened to hear that this is not the case with these albums, and I will be looking for this CD. Because a good Fathead side is something I'll never turn down!

(and btw - I know very well the audience about which you refer. They were the parents & older siblings of a lot of my peers, friends, and bandmates in my younger days, and I got to know quite a few of them pretty well. Although actually, the parents were ususally hipper. Had a college roomate whose dad came to visit one time & noticed a Lester Young side out. Next thing I know, this cat is reliving a JATP show he saw back in the day, act by act, tune by tune. And this guy wasn't a player or nothing, he was a school teacher. But he liked his King Curits sides too, indeed he did.)

#9 mikeweil

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Posted 03 September 2007 - 08:13 AM

I think there's a big, or biggish, problem with this type of recording from the late sixties to the late seventies. The problem is with the orchestrations. They're mostly awful; awful in the sense that they tend to over ride what the soloist is doing. One feels that the soloist - who is our main reason for buying the album, after all, is constrained by the arrangement. And that they're not, therefore, playing what they feel as freely as they might with a small group. This leads to a conclusion that the music isn't as honest as it might or should be.

For that reason Orrin Keepnews once produced a reissue compilation of several David Newman Prestige sides with the orchestra parts mixed down - just Newman with rhythm, no problem as the orchestra parts were overdubbed later.
The irony is - he was the original producer just as well .....

Edited by mikeweil, 03 September 2007 - 01:06 PM.


#10 The Magnificent Goldberg

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 03:46 PM

I think there's a big, or biggish, problem with this type of recording from the late sixties to the late seventies. The problem is with the orchestrations. They're mostly awful; awful in the sense that they tend to over ride what the soloist is doing. One feels that the soloist - who is our main reason for buying the album, after all, is constrained by the arrangement. And that they're not, therefore, playing what they feel as freely as they might with a small group. This leads to a conclusion that the music isn't as honest as it might or should be.

For that reason Orrin Keepnews once produced a reissue compilation of several David Newman Prestige sides with the orchestra parts mixed down - just Newman with rhythm, no problem as the orchestra parts were overdubbed later.
The irony is - he was the original producer just as well .....


Yes - I have the CD without strings, as well as the two original LPs with strings. I prefer the originals, actually. The music seems to me to have been conceived with them in mind and it sounds incomplete without. Maybe that's just because I had the LPs for so long before the CD came out... But, as all here know, I DO like commercial music very much!

MG

#11 The Magnificent Goldberg

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 03:47 PM

(my god, the one chorus obligatto - not even a solo - behind Donny Hathaway on "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" ranks right there with Prez behind Billie, and no, I do not exaggerate),


I haven't heard this. Something to look for. What album is it on, Jim?

MG

#12 JSngry

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 04:28 PM

Extensions Of A Man

#13 DMP

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 04:45 PM

Newman sounds good in any situation, but for the later Atlantic period, I'd second the recommendation for "Lonely Avenue," and maybe add "Captain Buckles" - both more stripped down than "Bigger..." ("Front Money" is a current favorite of my 5 yeear old.)

#14 The Magnificent Goldberg

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Posted 05 September 2007 - 05:04 PM

Newman sounds good in any situation, but for the later Atlantic period, I'd second the recommendation for "Lonely Avenue," and maybe add "Captain Buckles" - both more stripped down than "Bigger..." ("Front Money" is a current favorite of my 5 yeear old.)


I'd agree with that - and "Front money" is pulled out of the rack for me to play in the next few days. But just because something isn't as good as something else - or even as likeable, maybe - is no reason to dismiss it.

MG

#15 JSngry

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 05:05 PM

Got out of the house today for recreational shopping, went to a HP, and SCORED!

#16 BillF

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Posted 22 February 2008 - 05:13 PM

I was surprised to find Newman on a Lee Morgan Blue Note album Sonic Boom, but how good he is!

#17 JSngry

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 09:35 AM

Got out of the house today for recreational shopping, went to a HP, and SCORED!


A yo, what a fine two albums these are!

William S. Fischer, now there's somebody who may or may not have been doing something different. I'd like to have heard the inner voicings better. But as elsewhere, he's got a semi-drone thing going on with his string writing that adds flavor.

Plus, there's some stuff on ...Facets... that's...not really "commercial", like "Shiloh".

All in all, the stuff that is "commercial" is above and beyond, and the stuff that isn't (like, how "commercial" is it for a player like Fathead on an album like this for a label like Atlantic to play a ballad like "That's All" and never really even hint at the melody? I mean, it wasn't until the bridge that I was really sure that it was the same "That's All...) is just gravy.

Thanks for the tip y'all. Slippy's WELL pleased.

#18 dumpy mama

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 11:03 AM

and then fischer and newman would triumphantly reunite for....concrete jungle!

#19 The Magnificent Goldberg

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 02:06 PM

and then fischer and newman would triumphantly reunite for....concrete jungle!


Before that, they reunited for

Mr Fathead - WB - really pretty awful
Keep the dream alive - Prestige (released after "Concrete" but recorded first - better, but not much)
and finally

Posted Image

Scratch my back - Prestige - which is perhaps the greatest disco album ever! Newman is ecstatic on many cuts. It's not an album that pretends to be a jazz album - it's out an out dance music of the time and who better than Newman?

MG

#20 Thom Keith

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 03:57 PM

Fathead is greatly under appreciated. He *is* somewhat limited in the grand scheme, but he does what he does so damned well, who really cares? I had the good fortune to talk with him when I saw him a few years back. Exceptionally nice guy who really knows music. (Also got to chat briefly with "my guy" John Hicks that night... not as personable, but I could care less --- he's still "my guy")

The first few Fathead records are all great, but strangely, his recent output is probably second among his output to that stuff. His KAREN, MY LOVE, is an anthemic ballad. We had a friend visiting the night we saw him and our friend had a choice -- stay at our house alone or pony up for a ticket. He came along, and when David played that tune, our friend -- who's more of a folker than a Jazz guy -- sat in his seat, stunned, uttering, "Wow!" A side note: Sculler's let us stay for the second set for a mere $10 each; great for us, a travesty for David. (Yoron Israel was on drums and was spectacular... forget the bassist... a white dude who was a bad-ass, but not Novesel).

#21 dumpy mama

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Posted 29 February 2008 - 04:39 PM

rube, i kind of like concrete jungle. how many albums in 1978 had a woody shaw and a bob marley cover?!?!? actually i guess the cover says mccoy tyner composed "blues for ball" but i thought it was shaw. anyway, my point is made. starts off terrible but improves. i will certainly look for the album you are hyping. mr. fathead does suck.



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