Feel the Love
Feel the Love is third Posi-Tone release for Portland, OR-based trumpeter and composer Farnell Newton. We covered his second one, Rippin’ and Runnin’, on these same pages in May 2020. Newton, who after being raised in Miami, FL attended the Philadelphia High School for creative and Performing Arts, studied with his uncles, saxophonist/ composer Conny Murray and influential avant-garde drummer Sunny Murray. From there Newton studied in Denver, at Oberlin in Ohio, finally settling in Portland, OR where he earned his master’s degree in In Jazz Studies and Performance from Portland State in 2008. Newton is involved in all kinds of pursuits, which is quite amazing considering he’s the father of five children. He hosts his own jazz radio show at KMHD and performs on records in several genres, with artists Aretha Franklin, James Moody, Muhal Richard Abrams, Mel Brown, Jill Scott, “Bootsy” Collins, Stevie Wonder, Karl Denson, and Galactic to name just a few.
Like its predecessor, this is straight-ahead jazz, with some elements of soul-jazz but mostly hard bop. Newton’s sound somewhat resembles the fiery trumpeters Woody Shaw, Hannibal Marvin Peterson, and Brian Lynch. Newton’s core quartet for this one is the Posi-Tone staple unit of pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Boris Kozlov, and drummers Rudy Royston and Joe Strasser (three tracks). While tenor saxophonist Brandon Wright returns for one selection, much of the appeal of this release versus the previous is the appearance of more of Newton’s favorite saxophonists including altoists Braxton Cook (two selections), Jaleel Shaw (three), and Patrick Cornelius (two). Trombonist Michael Dease joins on “Pale.” Newton has five originals, Hirahara contributes one and three other composers combine for the remaining five.
The album kicks off with the title track rendered by the core quartet. It’s a surging hard pop piece dedicated to one of Newton’s professors at Oberlin and features not only strong playing from the leader but shimmering piano from Hirahara. “Affectionately Roy,” another Newton original, is yet another tribute (as we’ve seen several recently) to the beloved Roy Hargrove, and features the first of Cook’s contributions, delivering an emotive solo in keeping with the honoree of the tune. The tune also showcases how tenderly the rhythm section can be in support.
The band steps into jam mode on John Scofield’s “I’ll Catch You,” with Jaleel Shaw, who has plenty of experience playing similar material as a key force in Nate Smith’s Kinfolk. Speaking of drummers, Royston’s insistent beats here show why he is one of the most in-demand drummers in the genre. The band returns to ballad mode, doing even more delicately on Newton’s original “A Child Not Yet Born,” inspired by the great ‘60s ballad work of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, tenorist Wright proves that he has warm command of this idiom as well. Newton’s trumpet tone is exceptionally pure as well.
Newton’s “Bluest Eyes” is inspired from his reading Toni Morrison’s Bluest Eye and marks the return of Shaw, building his solo incrementally to an intensity that matches the leader’s forceful trumpet statement. Hirahara takes a joyous flight as well. “Litoral” is one of two compositions from Newton’s former co-band leader pianist Marcus Schultz-Reynolds. Naturally it is a great vehicle for Hirahara’s nimble and delicate touch and the ballad features Patrick Cornelius as Newton’s front line partner. The second piece from Newton’s pianist friend in “The Force of Gravity,” a haunting tune rendered by the core quartet, revealing some new sound textures, especially Royston’s cymbal work and Kozlov’s robust plucking.
“Pale” was written by tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell and again features Shaw with trombonist Dease joining for a three horn ensemble harmony as Hirahara hits some powerful chords early on. The piece unfolds through a few tempo changes as the altoist has the first solo, followed by Newton, and Hirahara. The three horns take the wonderful melody out for this album standout. “Laws of Motion,” penned by Hirahara has Strasser on the drum kit and is the epitome of swinging hard bop, as Cornelius steps in to join Newton.
The band moves away from their ballad-hard bop iterations into more explorative territory, along the lines of Newton’s great uncle Sunny Murray, ‘the father of avant-garde drumming” for “Lawn Darts,” written by New York bassist Peter Brendler. Braxton Cook sounds eminently comfortable in this mode which has some varied time meters, all capably mastered by the Kozlov-Royston-Hirahara rhythm section, who have their own three-way dialogue, three and half minutes in. This evocative moving album ends appropriately with Newton’s heartfelt “Our Chosen Family,” a ballad played by the core quartet.
As impressive as Newton’s previous album was, this is a step up based on both the strength of the compositions and the contributions from the four saxophonists. Newton may yet not carry the same name recognition as trumpeters Brian Lynch and his label mate Alex Spiagin but he is clearly in the same conversation.
In this writer’s opinion, the Posi-Tone label is your ‘go to’ place for straight-ahead jazz. If you haven’t already checked out some of their artists (and we write about most of them), suggest you listen to these as leaders – Art Hirahara, Will Bernard, Alex Sipiagin, Alexa Tarantino, Michael Dease, Behn Gillece, and Jocelyn Gould.
- Jim Hynes