The soprano saxophone is one mean mistress; temperamental, demanding, and unforgiving. Few have mastered her, with Sidney Bechet
, John Coltrane
, and Steve Lacy
coming to mind. Saxophonist Sam Newsome,late of the Terence Blanchard
Quintet, has stepped up to provide his Das Wohltemperierte Klavier
of the instrument in SoliloquySolo Works for Soprano Saxophone
. Strongly recalling Bobby Watson
's solo alto saxophone recital, This Little Light of Mine
(Red Records, 1999), Blue Soliloquy
researches and ultimately expands the tonal capability of the soprano saxophone, revealing some very interesting treatments along the way.
Newsome provides his collection of solo pieces a "blue" theme, all titles containing the word. Looming large in the spirit of the recording is Thelonious Monk
, always a darling of soprano saxophonists (think Steve Lacy
and his fine Monk recordings). The collection closes with an inspired reading of Monk's "Blue Monk," appropriate for the theme of the disc. Coming before that coda is a multicultural survey of styles and traditions. "Blues for Robert Johnson" and "Blue Mongolia" employ Philip Glass
-like alternating notes mimicking the horn's natural propensity for vibrato. "Blue Swagger" summons Bechet's expressive tone infused with Coltrane-esque spiritual squeals.
It is Newsome's travel to the old world that truly compel. "Blue Beijing" modulates four-note figures through a variety of colored paper tonal expressions to a pronounced climax. "Mandela's Blue Mbira" is Newsome's equivalent of picking piano strings with a plectrum. He evokes the instruments percussive nature, employing African rhythms and producing a dance piece. "Blue Lacy Coleman" flies in and lands amongst Newsome's musical safari to pay tribute to the post-Coltrane liberators of the saxophone: Steve Lacy and Ornette Coleman
. "Blue Pulpit," "Blue Sunday," and "Blue Hum of the Holy Breath" are all full of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Newsome showing that he is never far from the source.
Solo reeds recitals are dicey propositions. They can all too easily devolve into self-indulgent yammering. Newsome saves himself from this fate by judicious performance choices and a keen improvisatory ear to the world.
Personnel: Sam Newsome: soprano saxophone.