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Blues On Stage
The Blues Foundation's 1999 "Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame 2009 "Supportive of the Blues"
(Yellow Dog, 2005)
Review Date: Oct 2009
by Norman Darwen
There is a very small and select band of artists who appeal to both jazz and blues lovers equally and who manage to tread the tightrope between the two genres with more than a little success. Guitarist Calvin Newborn is one of these. He is from a prominent Memphis musical family; his father was a drummer with Jimmie Lunceford and later became leader of a band in West Memphis that contained his sons, Phineas Newborn Jr. on piano and Calvin on guitar. A few years earlier the brothers had both played piano but Calvin hardly got a look in thanks to his older sibling's talent – so a family friend called BB King helped Calvin pick a guitar. Later a white guy called Elvis picked up a few pointers from Calvin to improve his own playing.
Out of the eight songs on this CD, five qualify as out-and-out jazz pieces, immaculately played by eight musicians including some very notable contributions from the fellow Memphis veteran Herman Green on sax and flute. These tracks are cool and hip, the kind of thing to get your head nodding and toes tapping in an upmarket jazz club. The other three titles all have the word “blues” in their titles, and deservedly so. 'Newborn Blues' is a cool, jazz-inflected number that contains some playing by Calvin that is certainly derived from BB King, whilst 'After Hours Blues' is an eight minutes long original with Calvin's playing straight out of the T-Bone Walker bag on this slow number; there is a nice, strong, old-fashioned back-beat from drummer Renardo Ward on this one as well. The CD closer, 'Blues & Beyond' is self-descriptive – rather more 'beyond' than 'blues' perhaps but still with plenty of blues-based guitar playing from Calvin.
To sum up then, you have to like a hefty dose of jazz to go for this – but if that's you, then do seek out this classy release.
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