David "Fathead" Newman/ Ed Thigpen Quartet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

David "Fathead" Newman/ Ed Thigpen Quartet 


Saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman risks being pigeonholed in the "Texas tenor" tradition, thanks not only to his Dallas nativity but also to his full-bodied tone, his hard swing, and his easygoing jump on the blues. But Newman's alto playing--with its haunting tone and emotional reserve--has always played a nearly equal role to the tenor in his music; and his cool, funky proficiency on flute became yet another calling card in his soul-fusion recordings of the 70s. Newman's expertise on all these instruments has diluted his impact with any one of them, but the sum really does exceed the parts: you go to hear him for both his sunny up-tempo work and the late-night, low-light sensuality of his ballads and blues, all arrayed in the full range of his instrumental voices. Newman attempted--well, I'm not sure exactly what he attempted on his most recent album, a "personal tribute to the rhythms of Mother Nature" called Under a Woodstock Moon (Kokopelli), which features strings on a couple tracks, an emphasis on "gentler" standards, and just one shuffle-tempo blues. Pleasant enough (after all, few modern saxists can match Newman for soft-focus soul); hardly the stuff of Texas tenor legend. But you can expect Newman to pull out the stops next week, in a meat-and-potatoes quartet co-led by the gifted percussion giant Ed Thigpen. Thigpen anchored the Oscar Peterson Trio in the late 50s and 60s, and spent four years touring with Ella Fitzgerald. Those gigs are the high-water marks on his resume, but they don't begin to tell the story. In the last 25 years, while living mostly in Denmark, Thigpen has continued to expand his punctilious technique: he has adapted rhythms from Africa, India, and the West Indies, bringing to them the same precision that has always marked his energetic command of postbop drum mechanics. He peppers every solo with valuable information, whether whispering a tempo with brushes or exploding it with barrages a la Art Blakey. Ain't but a few like him left; finding him onstage with Newman all but guarantees a delightful lesson in Hard-Core Jazz 101. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, March 23, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photos.

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