BY ED ENRIGHT
Sam Newsome, The Straight Horn Of Africa
Soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome has been on a path to liberation for years, most notably with his solo albums Blue Soliloquy (2010) and The Art Of The Soprano, Vol. 1 (2012). Now, with The Straight Horn Of Africa: A Path To Liberation,
Newsome has truly freed himself, and his instrument, from traditional
roles and expectations.
Newsome has not only discovered a continuum that
exists between Western harmony, Eastern music and the avant-garde; he
has also unlocked the straight horn’s potential for extended techniques
in a manner that brings to mind the groundbreaking work of virtuoso
soprano sax visionaries such as the great Steve Lacy (1934–2004).
Newsome’s music evokes ancient peoples and places, revealing the African
origins of jazz and popular music—a connection often overshadowed by
those genres’ deep-seated reliance on Western harmony.
He pulls out all
of the stops on the soprano, employing multiphonics, microtonality,
slap-tonguing, circular breathing, vocalizations, talking drum-like key
thumps and physical movement to create his melodies, rhythms and
harmonies. Some tracks are layered via studio multitracking, with
interlocking grooves and cyclical ostinatos pushing the simple themes
along. Others are solo explorations that increase in complexity over the
course of the album, ultimately yielding otherworldly sounding results.
The sounds that Newsome seeks, and ultimately finds, are ones that date
back to periods long before jazz existed but that informed its origins
and consequent development. You won’t hear any direct references to
straightahead repertoire here: This is naked soprano sax devoid of
modern concepts—a pure voice achieved by an absolute master of the
It’s extremely difficult to produce such palatable and
emotionally stirring art by pushing an instrument so far beyond its
traditional limits, but Newsome has refined his unconventional
techniques to the point of creating a modern masterpiece. The Straight Horn Of Africa (which Newsome has subtitled The Art Of The Soprano, Vol. 2)
will entrance you. Be prepared to shed any preconceived notions of the
soprano saxophone and to let Newsome insightfully upend your
understanding of how all the music styles of the world are interrelated.
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