Collector’s Corner

Densely Open


The Sound Of The Wide Open Spaces, the title of Texas tenor saxophonists David "Fathead" Newman and James Clay's 1960 release, is a reference to their home state's geography. But, it could also apply to the rangy sound of their hard bop, Texas Blues-inflected style.

Texas tenors have been energizing the jazz scene since the Swing-era sounds of Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet. The hard boppers redefined the genre by adding elements of gospel and R&B. All of the Texas tenors shared a propensity to push the swing right to the edge and a deep, hefty tone. "Fathead" was a childhood nickname but it could also apply to Newman's rich sound.

Newman was touring with Ray Charles and Clay was making an impact in Los Angeles when producer Orrin Keepnews brought the two together, with fellow hard bopper Wynton Kelly leading a rhythm section of Sam Jones and Arthur Taylor.

The recording pulses with the excitement and energy of an impromptu jam session, right down to the occasional squeal of a recalcitrant mouthpiece. The title cut is an uptempo blues that, at over 12 minutes long, has the soloists developing and expanding their ideas in classic bop style. "Figgur-Ration" opens with the two horns playing a soli that quotes Charlie Parker's "Cool Blues." The relative cool of the ballad, "What's New," still burns with quiet intensity. Unlike Newman and Clay's prairie homeland, these Wide Open Spaces are densely populated with exuberance, phenomenal chops and a perpetual flow of ideas.