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It's been ten years now since saxophonist Sam Newsome made his debut recording as a leader for Criss Cross Jazz, Sam I Am. Prior to that he had spent five years on the front line of Terrence Blanchard's quintet. Already established within the hard bop community and known as a tenor saxophone stylist of note, Newsome made a bold move in 1995 by focusing exclusively on the soprano horn. Furthermore, he would develop a unique muse in the guise of Global Unity, an ensemble that specializes in a jazz hybrid embracing the folkloric traditions of Middle Eastern and Japanese music.
Unlike his previous SteepleChase affair, The Tender Side of Sammy Straighthorn, this new release is more of an open-ended experiment that relies less on formal structures and more on a blowing type atmosphere, albeit with a great degree of creative energy. Newsome's horn is also front and center, without the arcane edge usually added by the wordless vocals of Elizabeth Kontomanou (an acquired taste anyway, to be sure). Some radical departures are given to the standards on tap, like the altered melody voiced by Newsome on 'Satin Doll,' which works up an exceptional froth thanks to drummer Gene Jackson's locomotive accompaniment. Newsome even turns 'The Girl From Ipanema's' walk to the sea into more of a hurried romp. By contrast, the title track and 'Toryanse' are reflective and calm; giving one an even better opportunity to appreciate Newsome's round and almost vibrato-less tone.
Quirky enough to raise the ante beyond your typical blowing session, the freedom that Newsome finds in these nine pieces (pianist Bruce Barth is cleary inspired to boot) seems to goad some genuinely profound statements and the results are positively effusive.
Track Listing: Satin Doll, Stella By Starlight, The Girl From Ipanema, Footprints, This Masquerade, Toryanse, Blue Monk, What's New, Pent-Up House
Personnel: Sam Newsome (soprano sax), Bruce Barth (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), Gene Jackson (drums)