Sorry, I couldn't resist the play on words for the title. After all, Phineas preferred to pronounce his first name as "Fine-as or "Fine us." And I don't think I'm too far off in proclaiming this collection as one of his finest if not his best effort, particularly where "I Love a Piano" is concerned.
These two former Roulette albums were produced in 1959 at the pinnacle of Newborn's creativity and sensitivity before later mental health issues started taking their toll on him personally as well as on his music. Producer Teddy Reig just wanted to give Newborn the freedom to stretch out and concentrate on standards or "chestnuts" as the album proclaims. For those who fault Phineas for his perceived emphasis on technique rather than emotion or sensitivity, these two albums will quickly dispel that. Technique comes in many forms and proper execution is one. And that element alone is part of what makes these two albums shine.
Oh, there's plenty of technique displayed here but it is all so seemlessly woven into the fabric of the performances as to be almost unnoticeable. Now, isn't that the way it should be? As for the albums, "Portraits" is notable for some beautiful ballads such as "Golden Earrings", "I Can't Get Started With You" and "Sweet and Lovely" among others. Sometimes Newborn is almost melancholic but he really immerses himself into the fabric of the tunes.
"I Love a Piano" is notable for virtually everything. It starts of with a rousing, uptempo romp through "Take The A Train" that is bound to become many folks' favorite version of that Ellington classic (It's mine!). It concludes with a lilting, superbly developed rendition of the chestnut, "Give Me the Simple Life." As for technique, check out "Real Gone Guy" where Phineas alternates between rapid block chord statements, followed immediately by unison, two octave displays and back to chords again for several bars! And these are just a couple of examples of unobtrusive technical excellence throughout this album.
You will also notice that there are no bass or drum solos. They aren't necessary even though one of the giants of jazz drumming, Roy Haynes is here. You can't ask for better support than what both Haynes and John Simmons provide throughout these performances. I especially appreciate this, given that I am a drummer myself! There are also no waltzes or other alternate time signatures. But you won't miss them.
I think it's pointless to make such claims as "greatest", or "Best" in any art form. But I will state that "I Love a Piano" is among my top five favorite piano, bass, drums albums and I've listened to plenty of them over the past fifty years. "Piano Portraits" is also high on my list.
Bottom line, if you appreciate good music in general and if you like first tier piano music, forget the label "Jazz" for a bit, I don't see how you cannot be impressed with these two albums. Give a listen and you'll hear why!