Sam Newsome's The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1
is a solo soprano saxophone outing, While not unprecedentedSteve Lacy
and Evan Parker
have done this beforeit certainly is
unusual. The straight horn all alone: no bass, no drums, no piano or guitar. Sounds lonely, and a little too sonically spare.
But no one has gone deeper into solo soprano than Newsome. The saxophonist, who honed his artist chops in trumpeter Terence Blanchard
's groups on tenor sax in the early 1990s, switched to the straight horn in 1996. He has become a pioneering voice on the instrument. His second solo recording, Blue Soliloquy
(Self Published, 2009) met with a wide critical acclaim. Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1
is even better, with its focus on three separate suites, and the increased use of Newsome's incorporation of a variety of unusual technniques, including multiphonics, the ringingly percussive "slap tonguing," circular breathing, Middle Eastern lines, and the blowing of the horn onto the strings of a piano to create long, subtle sustaining tones that act as a sort of enhanced silence behind the soprano sound.
The three suites are saxophone legend John Coltrane
's A Love Supreme
(Impulse!, 1965) (and it takes some nerve to tackle that one); a three-tune Duke Ellington
medley; and Newsome's own "Soprano de Africana." Newsome wisely shuffled the sections of the suites, beginning with Ellingtons's "In a Mellowtone," moving into his haunting "Burkino Faso," from "Soprano de Africana," then to "Part 1" of Coltrane's masterpiece, "Acknowledgment."
The mix of the familiar and Newsome's originals blend into innovative statement, with the voice of a soprano saxophone that very often doesn't sound like a soprano saxophone at all in the traditional sense. Newsome shifts from "car-horn-in-an-echoing-tunnel" blowing that segues into an electro-industrial percussive resonance on Coltrane's "Acknowledgement," to the flute-like shimmer that introduces Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," along with the marimba-esque clunking that announces the saxophonist's own "Zulu Witch Doctor."
These are strange sounds, put together into a strangely compelling programhighly original and oddly gorgeous.