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Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation

Dan McClenaghan By

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Sam Newsome played tenor saxophone in trumpeter Terence Blanchard's group back in the early 90s, but he put away the tenor late a few years later and left his soprano saxophone out on the table. The plan was to explore the possibilities of "the straight horn." Then Gerry Teekan, producer and founder of Criss Cross Records, advised Newsome that the soprano horn was a very limited instrument. That observation was, fortunately, not taken to heart.

The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation is Newsome's "Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2" offering. Like its predecessor, the masterful The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 (Self Produced, 2012), the effort is all Newsome, all soprano saxophone. But where Vo1. 1 explored the music of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, along with his own "Africana Suite," Vol. 2. is all Newsome originals, and his journey here takes him on a tangent away from pure beauty (though there is much of that here) to the outer reaches of the unexplored possibilities of the soprano saxophone.

First, this doesn't often sound like a solo effort. With multi-tracking used to exploit Newsome's array of extended techniques like multiphonics, the percussive "slap tonguing," and circular breathing, Newsome sounds like trio, or even a quartet.

An often mentioned down side to the straight horn is it's tendency toward tonal harshness. Newsome doesn't try to solve this problem. He embraces it. While his tone can be as pretty and pure as that of his fellow straight hornist Jane Ira Bloom—on "Nightfall on the Owani Desert," for example—his brief "Echoes From Mt. Kilimanjaro" has a ghostly metallic stridency. And the title tune is a multi-rhythmic stew that might not be readily identifiable, on a blind listen, as a saxophone of any sort. It sounds instead like layered electronics, a tight groove playing over glaring washes—car horns and train whistles.

Africa is evoked. This is a surprisingly rhythmic record. Also extremely modernisitic. Much of what is heard feels like a soundtrack to a the metropolises of a burgeoning continent bursting into a vibrancy of a new century of unlimited possibilities.

Sam Newsome is taking the soprano horn into new territory. He's taking jazz into new territory, on perhaps the most innovative and oddly beautiful recordings of the year.

Track Listing: Echoes From Mt. Kilamanjaro; The Straight Horn Of Africa; Explorations Of An African Horn, Part 1; The Obama Song: The Man From Kenya; Ethiopian Jews; Explorations Of An African Horn: Part 2; The Snake Charmer Of Tangier; Microtonal Nubian Horn: Part 1; Good Golly Miss Mali; African Conundrum; Sounds Of Somalia; When The Drum Speaks; Microtonal Nubian Horn: Part 2; Dark Continent Dialogues; African Nomads; Microtonal Nubian Horn: Part 3; Nightfal On The Owani Desert; The Day In The Life Of A Hunter Gatherer; Microtonal Nubian Horn: Part 4; Highlife.

Personnel: Sam Newsome: soprano saxophone.

Title: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Self Produced

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