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Horn Soliloquy: Mort Weiss & Sam Newsome

C. Michael Bailey By

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Solo horn recitals are nothing new. Both Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy produced several each. Tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins released a sparking The Solo Album (Milestone, 1985), while Bobby Watson's alto wailed solo on This Little Light of Mine (Red Records, 1993). No other format allows the horn player more freedom than playing solo. Here are two fully-realized examples of this freedom in performance.

Mort Weiss
Raising The Bar: The Definitive Mort Weiss
SMS Jazz

Mort Weiss took 40 years off from performing music before his recording debut in 2003. Over the next 10 years, Weiss has recorded nine discs for his SMS Jazz records. His approach is decidedly mainstream using a comfortable repertoire as his expressive vehicle. In his 70s, Weiss practices almost obsessively and he stands as an example of the values of continued practice as his recordings continue to reveal new facets to his playing. Weiss' recent I'll Be Seeing You (SMS Jazz, 2012) shows the artist in both a vertical and horizontal creative expansion directly occurring from a lifetime of experience. He has paid his dues and then some.

Weiss' recording previous to I'll Be Seeing You was auspiciously entitled Raising The Bar: The Definitive Mort Weiss (SMS Jazz, 2010). Of this release, critic Samuel Chell remarked that,
"Weiss' choice of a subtitle may strike some listeners as curious. Usually 'definitive' appears on those single-disc anthologies that purport to represent a prolific artist by cherry-picking his very best performances... [But] it's clear that with 'definitive' he has a different meaning for the word in mind... the meaning becomes, in effect, 'I've played my tail off, I've given it all I've got, practicing day in and day out, and the final result represents the very best of which I'm capable.'"

Indeed, Weiss appears to be only warming up in his career at the young age of 78 years. The fact is this collection is definitive because it is only Weiss playing with nowhere to hide and he does not shrink from the challenge. Weiss' choice of songs may be traditional, but his thoughtful treatment of them is anything but. Weiss takes the broad and densely searching spirit of Jimmy Giuffre, and stirs in a copious amount of the crystalline grace of, say, Buddy DeFranco. No, wait, what this really is is one-hundred percent Mort Weiss, no excuses, no apologies.

Old chestnuts like "Tea for Two" and "Just Friends" receive a thorough post-modern treatment (within reason). Weiss is fearless in exploring the space-time continuum as it applies to solo instrument performance. The traditional "Dear Old Stockholm" is expressed impressionistically. There is plenty of proper melody, but Weiss likes to get inside a song and have a walk around, which he does here. Weiss does so again on his originals "Blues for Hakan" and "Lunch in Navasota." In the former, the clarinetist finds all of the blue notes, stringing them together in what can be heard as his musical Garden of Earthly Delights with John Coltrane wails and all, while the latter is a pastel travelog to a place both imaginary and very temporal.

Sam Newsome
The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1
MCG Jazz

Soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome releases his third solo horn recital The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 following 2007's Monk Abstractions (Self Produced) and Blue Soliloquy (Self Produced, 2009). With each release, Newsome has further perfected his abstract approach to the cranky horn, taking it to the same percussive places the late Don Pullen took the piano at the behest of one Cecil Taylor. These percussive capabilities are fully drawn from the marrow of {Duke Ellington}}'s "In A Mellow Tone" and John Coltrane's "Acknowledgement" from his suite A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), where Newsome taps out the familiar four-note mantra of Jimmy Garrison.

The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 is a grand suite made up of three smaller ones: the first of an Ellington medley, the second of Newsome's own "Soprano de Africana" and finally, a fearless survey of Coltrane's late period masterpiece. Newsome draws a thread through these three mini-suites and eleven individual selections, drawing them together under the banner of the soprano saxophone as envisioned by the likes of Sidney Bechet through Coltrane onto Steve Lacy and David Liebman and arriving at Evan Parker and Newsome himself. The soprano saxophone has few masters and even fewer who attempt sculpting its sound, whose will is like iron in a snowstorm.

Newsome warms the horn up with his percussive flights, particularly in his original suite, where he tries to capture the rhythmic nature of Africa. He takes this approach to its logical (at least for not) maxima in the triptych of Coltrane's "Resolution," Ellington's "Caravan" and Newsome's own "FELA!" Newsome's alchemic combination of percussion and wind reveal a more organic base in the soprano saxophone that previous performers. It is difficult to believe this is the same instrument lesser saxophonists use to make zillions of dollars more. Newsome's feat is like the valedictory of an unawarded MacArthur Genius Award with the promise of at least one more volume to come.

Tracks and Personnel

Raising The Bar: The Definitive Mort Weiss

Track Listing: My Shining Hour; Smile; Tea For Two; Alfie; Sketches; Dear Old Stockholm; Everything Happens To Me; Without A Song; Blues For Håkan; Lunch In Navasota; Just Friends; What's New?; Love Is a Many Splendored Thing; As Time Goes By; It Could Happen To You; It Might As Well Be Spring; My Way.

Personnel: Mort Weiss: clarinet.

The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1

Track Listing: The Ellington Medley: In a Mellow Tone; Soprano de Aficana: Burkino Faso; A Love Supreme: Acknowledgement; Soprano de Africana: Sub Saharan Dialogue; The Ellington Medley: In a Sentimental Mood; Soprano de Afriacana: Zulu Witch Doctor; A Love Supreme: Resolution; The Ellington Medley: Caravan; Soprano de Africana: Fela!; A Love Supreme: Pursuance; A Love Supreme: Psalm.

Personnel: Sam Newsome: soprano saxophone.


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