Solo and in duet with Art Themen at the Jazz on a winter's weekend, Southport

Bernard McAlinden, Crescendo Magazine

For the first of two evening concerts it was Dave Newton and friends. The applause that greeted Newton to the stand was that of genuine admiration for a master. For the first half of the set Dave played solo piano and played a medley of four songs. He opened with Don’t Blame Me and drew every nuance from this great old tune that had a freshness about it that one would have thought it had just been written. Moving seamlessly into Stompin’ at the Savoy he gave it a thourough work-out sculpting out some lovely patterns at a tempo that was made for this theme. Jobim’s Wave was next and Newton did it full justice as he let his imagination roam much to the audience’s delight. He ended this segment with a lovely stated Jive at Five. There is a sophistication about Dave’s playing that runs deep, whether ballads, swingers or flag wavers, it’s all there. This was great jazz and the audience let him know it.

For the second half of this set Newton was joined by Art Themen and it was as a duo they played. Opening with Like Someone in Love their interplay, right from the start, was there for all to hear. Art’s sound on tenor, as always, ever distinctive, was heart warming and their take of The Nearness of You was top drawer. Total empathy was the key to it all. Themen is just as distinctive, but more quirky, on soprano as he showed on Darn That Dream and his sly quote from Holiday for Strings had the audience nodding their approval at it’s impudence. Closing with You Do Something To Me, Newton played lines rather than feeding chords to Themen, as though he was playing a solo and Art reversed the pattern playing counterpoint as Dave soloed. Classic jazz and thoroughly stimulating, they left to a rousing reception.

Nail, head and hitting....


Amongst my most-enjoyed events of recent months was our Jazz Evening in Christ Church last December. Alan Barnes (saxophone & clarinet) and Dave Newton (keyboard) entertained a capacity audience of 200 with their superb musicianship and Alan’s gentle self-deprecating humour in his introductions to each number. As well as wonderful entertainment, I also found it to be a profoundly moving occasion. Let me try to explain why.

There is a quintessential wistfulness and longing about jazz; with its lyrics of loss and unfulfilled loves and hopes, the songs of slavery and oppression, with their origin in Negro Spirituals, bewailing a bygone age, or looking forward to some distant promised land. So the emotional energy is there from the outset, inviting us to reflect.

Now, I had never before been to a jazz evening: my ignorance of jazz is one of my “losses”. Jazz, along with so many other subjects, is something unfulfilled (and probably never-to-be-fulfilled) in me. I will forever be but a bystander, forever on the edge, unable to immerse myself in its full depth and complexity and beauty, because life is just too short … As the years go by, I become increasingly aware of that hard fact.

We were, too, an older audience – average age of about 60-ish, with many people much older than that. Almost all of us would have known some kind of personal loss or trauma, and have had hopes and dreams that were never realised, nor ever could be now. And most of us would know, first hand, the physical aches and pains that come with advancing years. In fact, on the face of it, if one set out to design an event to make everyone depressed, this would surely be it! Songs of loss and lack of fulfilment, for an ageing audience who are probably already acutely aware of such matters in their own lives.

Yet, here is the marvellous thing: Completely contrary to what might be expected, we came away appreciative, renewed, heartened, uplifted, still limping but somehow healed. How could such a miracle have come about?

Given the subject and content of the various numbers (with titles such as ‘Lament’, ‘Triste’) it certainly couldn’t have been simple escapism, causing us to forget about our troubles. Perhaps, rather, it was a matter of collective ‘immersion’ – our collective recognition (celebration, even) of the incompleteness of our humanity.

To accept that a lack of fulfilment and lack of 100% satisfaction are part of our human condition, to seek to embrace rather than escape that reality, to face it with humour and resolve, and to support one another throughout, is indeed a great and transforming grace – as our jazz evening so clearly demonstrated.

The Rev. Mark Nicholls

Wigmore Hall

David Newton Trio

Noisy clubs or big concert halls – the lot of most jazz musicians – necessitate amplification. So it’s a treat to hear a jazz trio playing without being amplified in the natural acoustic of the Wigmore Hall: the ringing purity of David Newton’s grand piano, the real “woodiness” of Andy Cleyndert’s double bass, and every swish and murmur from Steve Brown’s brushes, mallets and hands (drumsticks being noticeable for their near-absence).

The gilded cupola over the Wigmore Hall platform seemed incongruous for a jazz concert: until Newton started playing his distinctly European brand of chamber jazz, like Enrico Pieranunzi in its classical lyricism, dreamy introspection, melancholy and lightness of touch. The two sets consisted mainly of music from Newton’s latest album, “Portrait of a Woman”, and his 2005 release, “Inspired”. The mood of the first set was mainly impressionistic nocturnes, although one tune (which started with a two-chord vamp overlaid by a folksy melody on top) was reminiscent of the autumnal Americana of Ralph Towner. It wasn’t until the fourth piece that Newton played any overtly blues phrases. Appropriately, Cleyndert’s bass-playing was generally more contrapuntal rather than walking bass. Brown’s lightness of touch kept the drums suitably quiet: only occasionally did he sound too loud, when he was doing that swishy-brushes-on-the-snare thing beloved of drummers accompanying singers on ballads.

Incidentally, Newton is renowned for accompanying singers, most notably Stacey Kent, with whom he recorded and toured for ten years. Perhaps this explains the self-effacing nature of his playing. The music became more upbeat and swinging with “The Walk”, the final piece of the first set – plenty of blues phrasing, more rhythmically strident, and a few stabbing unison passages in the middle. It was literally a foot-tapper, someone’s shoe (Newton’s?) audible during the quieter passages.

Overall the second set was more straight-ahead jazz, with some standards added. For the encore the trio played a lively version of “Here’s That Rainy Day”, full of Ellingtonian playfulness. But perhaps the real standout was a delicate piano solo performance of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”, aching with longing and melancholia.

Alan Barnes & David Newton - City Halls, Glasgow

Star rating: ****

It’s a sign of just how highly regarded clarinettist/saxophonist Alan Barnes and pianist David Newton are that they managed to attract a full house to the City Halls Recital Rooms on a wet and stormy Sunday night. It was such an impressive turn-out – especially in these straitened times – that Barnes was prompted to comment: “There’s quite a lot of you – you do realise it’s a jazz concert?”

As ever with the droll saxman, he gave as much value as an entertainer as he did as a musician. Throughout the concert, he provided plenty of laughs – reading out the fanciful preview of the gig that appeared in an Edinburgh paper, introducing the tunes (“This is an original composition – words that strike fear into the hearts of the British jazz-going public.”) and reminiscing about the 32-year musical marriage between himself and his vocally silent partner, Newton.

That they have been playing duets for a long time explains the rapport that was evident from the first bar of the opening number, a dazzling take on You Do Something to Me. This pair negotiate changes in time signatures and keys with the greatest of ease and grace; second-guessing each other’s thought processes in the same way that an old married couple might finish each other’s sentences.

One of the evening’s highlights was a sublime version of the ballad For Heaven’s Sake, on which the two musicians gently batted the melody back and forth between them. Also to relish was the beguiling Billy Strayhorn classic Isfahan, featuring a sumptuous solo from Newton, and some majestic, Johnny Hodges-inspired, alto work from Barnes.

Review by Dave Gelly -The Observer

David Newton Trio ‘Inspired’. (BND Records) David Newton’s urbane and resourceful piano has been absent from Britain’s jazz scene for some time while he has been away on a world tour with Stacey Kent. Meanwhile, this immaculate set, with bassist Matt Miles and drummer Steve Brown, fills the gap nicely.

There is always more to Newton’s playing than first meets the ear. The surface may be smooth, but there are all kinds of clever, subtle things going on beneath. The variety he manages to dig out of Cole Porter’s ‘So in Love’ is astounding. Newton’s choice of material is often surprising – from Tadd Dameron to Joni Mitchell – but he explains the point of each one in his very illuminating notes.

Review by Ray Comiskey - The Irish Times

DAVID NEWTON Inspired BND ****

This is as good an example of straight ahead, swinging mainstream jazz piano trio as you’ll find. Its virtues are those of superior craftsmanship and material that offers the players something to chew on melodically and harmonically. If that means standards – and it does here – then it has to be said that Newton, Matt Miles (bass) and Steve Brown (drums) unequivocally bring out their possibilities in the style espoused.

Newton has been so consistently good at it for so long that perhaps he’s taken for granted, but this is quite possibly his best trio album yet. In a finely honed trio, Brown demonstrates, yet again, that he’s almost unequalled in this idiom and context. And Newton signs off on the disc with a superb performance of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now.

Return Journey ~ Ken Dryden, All Music Guide

David Newton chose to focus exclusively on original works for this 1992 solo session. Although there are no liner notes, one can’t help but wonder if he lost someone very dear to him prior to the making of this CD. The pianist’s thoughtful opener is the hauntingly beautiful and bittersweet “Stolen Time,” a complex piece that avoids a strict ballad structure, while taking the listener through an emotional roller coaster. “While You’re Away,” at just over 11 minutes, is actually a mini suite. It begins as a jig, though it soon grows more hesitant, as if the player is having second thoughts about his celebration.

After a brief pause, Newton switches to a more reflective mood, with a touch of pensiveness. The second half of the disc, which is subtitled Return Journey, includes the constantly probing post-bop “Into Somewhere” and the gorgeous ballad finale “Gone Forever.” David Newton is well known in his homeland (Great Britain) for his extensive for radio, television and films, as well as his numerous recordings. This brilliant release on Linn merits greater attention from jazz fans across the Atlantic Ocean.

Eye Witness ~ Ken Dryden, All Music Guide

Unlike his previous session for Linn, this trio CD (with bassist Dave Green and drummer Allan Ganley) strikes a balance between well played standards and upbeat catchy originals. “Angel Eyes” is almost a mandatory ballad for a pianist to play at some time — Newton’s very soft approach would hush the nosiest audience. A lengthy workout of Mal Waldron’s “Soul Eyes” and a brief take on the nearly forgotten showtune “Stars in My Eyes” merit praise. Among Newton’s works, the strutting opener “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and the turbocharged title track stand out.