Sam Newbould is a British-born alto saxophonist and composer who has since 2016 been based in Amsterdam, where he leads the Sam Newbould Quintet. The group debuted on record with the self-produced Blencathra in 2019. Bogus Notus is the follow-up.
The album is a substantial piece of work, a collection of eight originals which, says Newbould, takes the listener on a journey through the "mysterious corners of the northern English countryside" where he grew up. As the cover art suggests, this is a landscape dotted with ruins of the dark, satanic mills which broke out like open sores during Britain's nineteenth-century industrial revolution. It has to be said, however, that the English north only leaps out of Bogus Notus on one track, "Song For Annie." Featuring vocalist Beth Aggett, the tune sounds like a traditional northern folk song. Elsewhere, we could equally well be on a journey through the American rust belt for all the musical clues have to tell us.* But Newbould's precise geo-inspirational locus does not matter. It is the realisation that counts, and the dark and often brooding atmospheres conjured by the album cast their own weighty spell. Indeed, it is as a composer and arranger, rather than as a saxophonist, that Newbould makes the biggest impression. That said, his alto playing possesses a pleasingly tart lyricism, and his quintet, which is expanded to a septet on some tracks, is an empathic lineup. But they, too, are present primarily to be of service to the material.
Alongside English folk music, Newbould cites Radiohead, Wayne Shorter and twentieth-century classical music as inspirations. The last permeates the closing track, "Superfast Fibre Optic Broadband," and Shorter, circa Speak No Evil (Blue Note, 1966), comes through loud and clear on "Do It Yourself." Another, occasional, reference point is Charles Mingus, who makes himself felt on the slow, bluesy "Carried To The Common," which also touches on pianist Amina Claudine Myers during Youngwoo Lee's solo. Good stuff all round. Following Newbould's progress promises to be time well spent.
* If you want a more sustained evocation of the English north, check out library-music composer Basil Kirchin's recently reissued Abstractions Of The Industrial North, originally released on Music de Wolfe in 1966, which features Tubby Hayes on saxophone and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet.
Left Side Of The Cove; Concrete Caterpillar; Do It Yourself; Bogus Notus; Carried To The Common; Right Side Of The Cove; Song For Annie; Superfast Fibre Optic Broadband.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz and editor of the style magazine Jocks & Nerds; he was previously the editor of Black Music & Jazz Review magazine; he is Afrobeat consultant for Partisan Records and Google Arts & Culture.