Picking up the soprano saxophone these days as your sole instrument can be a dangerous proposition. For one thing, the straight clarinet-like horn is notorious for going out of tune if your embouchure is not up to par. Secondly, a whole generation of Kenny G clones has left some fans thinking that the instrument is only capable of insipid and saccharine results. Venerable enough to make the soprano the focus of an entire album, Sam Newsome's The Tender Side of Sammy Straighthorn is only the second album to appear under the saxophonist's name since the start of his New York tenure in 1988.
With a fondness for the soprano stylings of both Wayne Shorter and Steve Lacy, Newsome's influences can be detected in 'Victoria's Secret,' which features the saxophonist's hard biting attack in a manner that recalls Shorter's '80s work on such albums as Atlantis. Not a one-trick pony however, Newsome's fluid approach to '12 Bars From Hell' (done with just bass and drums) clearly points to Lacy.
The addition of Elisabeth Kontomanou on several cuts provides further variety, her wordless vocals acting like another solo horn. The melancholy feeling to much of the writing that features Kontomanou hints at the influence of Kenny Wheeler, who often utilizes the voice of Norma Winstone in a similar manner. Pianist Bruce Barth is also a valuable member of the crew, his complex and soulful improvisations almost stealing the show at times.
As a vehicle for allowing the soprano to restore its rightful place among the rest of the saxophone family, Newsome should be congratulated on his efforts. Furthermore, his attempt to extend the hard bop tradition beyond the established boundaries has resulted an intriguing album that will reward those looking for something just a bit left of center.
Victoria's Secret, The Tender Side of Sammy Straighthorn, Autumn Leaves, 12 Bars From Hell, Lullaby of Takeda, The Dumpess of Nyack, All The Things You Are
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