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Up City

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Album Review

Although he is the brother of the late hard bop pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., guitarist Calvin Newborn has never been a major name in the jazz world. One of the problems is the fact that he has only recorded sporadically; in a perfect world, Newborn would have a much larger catalog. Nonetheless, the guitarist has his admirers, especially in Memphis jazz and blues circles — and those admirers will easily appreciate what he does on Up City. Recorded in Memphis in 1996 and New York City in 1998, this hard bop/soul-jazz effort was originally released on his own label, Omnifarious Music, before being reissued by the Memphis-based Yellow Dog Records in 2005. Anyone who is familiar with Newborn's history knows that he isn't just the guitar-playing version of his brother; both are part of hard bop, but while Phineas could be a very cerebral pianist (Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell were primary influences), Calvin definitely favors the soul-jazz side of things. From the lively arrangements to Newborn's gritty, hard-swinging guitar solos, Up City is a prime example of how funky and blues-minded hard bop can be. The earthiness of the blues is evident throughout this enjoyable album, which unites the guitarist with skillful improvisers like Bill Mobley (trumpet, flugelhorn), Bill Easley (tenor sax, flute), and Tony Reedus (drums). Nothing groundbreaking occurs on Up City, but Newborn's accessible performances are consistently solid and make one wish that he hadn't recorded so infrequently over the years.


Born: 27 April 1933 in Whiteville, TN

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The often overlooked brother of Phineas Newborn, guitarist Calvin Newborn has almost as much command of his instrument as his pianist sibling. He's an excellent melodic interpreter, plays with great fluidity and blues sensibility, and can smoothly execute complex chord progressions or subtly accompany vocalists. Newborn's problem has been a lack of a recorded legacy and his willingness to remain in Memphis, where he's played in local clubs and with various groups for several decades. Newborn worked...
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Up City, Calvin Newborn
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