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Piano Portraits Import

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Piano Portraits
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Audio CD, Import, 16 Feb 2010
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Product details

  • Audio CD (16 Feb. 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Fresh Sound
  • ASIN: B0038WCC9E
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 442,218 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Format: Audio CD
This release brings together a couple of LPs recorded in New York back in 1959 and in so doing it gives us the chance to evaluate an undervalued jazz pianist.

By comparison with, say, Oscar Peterson Newborn is a forgotten man. It's a matter of debate as to why this is the case, but perhaps that sad fact is down to the fact that Newborn's obvious technical gifts were always put over with a certain diffidence that's the antithesis of showing off. By contrast with Peterson's everything-all-the-time approach Newborn's pianistic voice is reflective and far less prone to surface gloss, hence the reason why his reading of "Golden Earrings" is so affecting.

When he does reach for effect he makes it without putting a finger wrong, but then it could hardly be otherwise with a musical intelligence as acute as his. It's that intelligence that's to the fore on "For All We Know" where for all the economy of expression the melody still emerges unexpectedly at a tempo not far above the funereal.

In a way economy was one of Newborn's watchwords. Very few pieces here top the four minute mark, but the point is that he surely knew innately how much gold he could extract from the material he utilised without taxing both himself and his listeners. Listen to how he gets trenchant on his own "Blues For The Left Hand Only" for evidence of this and also how for all of his undoubted elegance he could get `inside the tradition' with the best of them.

All of the qualities discussed above make this one for the jazz historians as well as those who value instrumental virtuosity allied with the means to entice the ear without resorting to gimmicks or showing off. Jazz is of course littered with forgotten figures but here's a chance to make one of them less forgotten.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)

Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 review
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest From "Fine-us" 25 April 2011
By Tad Ulrich - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
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!
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