Friday, 5 October 2012


SAM NEWSOME - The Art of the Soprano, Vol.1 

Self Release

Sam Newsome (ss)
Recorded June 2011
Since Anthony Braxton’s groundbreaking For Alto there has been no shortage of solo saxophone recordings, and with many of its most ardent practitioners conceding that it is a challenging format that can be somewhat daunting for the listener as well. This, however, appears not to be the case for soprano saxophonist, Sam Newsome, as this is his third consecutive solo recording.
With many horn players regarding the solo performance as a musical situation to be savoured on a casual basis, but requiring the interaction of other musicians to feel their most creative, Newsome differs in that he finds that solo playing allows him to ‘refuel’ and refine his concept which he can then contribute to group collaborations.
With this latest self released offering the saxophonist continues to refine his concept, exploring the sonic, textural and rhythmic possibilities of the soprano to an astonishing level. With his use of extended techniques such as slap tonguing, multiphonics and circular breathing it would be forgivable to think that such a work would produce an album of enviable technique that outstrips creativity. This could not be further from the truth.
The music on this disc contains familiar pieces from the Ellington repertoire, an examination of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and a four part original composition Soprano De Africana. Newsome has cleverly programmed the disc so that none of the ‘suites’ play in their entirety, but allows the variety and scope of the music to reveal itself as the album progresses.
The Ellington ‘medley’ is handled with great subtlety and reverence, with Newsome’s slap tonguing and multiphonics filling out the rhythmic and harmonic movement as intended by the composer, with the saxophonist never straying far from the melody. This maybe high quality and advanced playing but this is never allowed to get in the way of the original source material.
This is also true of Coltrane’s masterpiece. A foolhardy undertaking to tackle such material, but Newsome has done his homework and reminds us of just how many other respected figures have done just that, and put numerous ‘covers’ of these compositions out there.
Newsome gives Coltrane’s pieces an ethereal sheen by playing his horn over the strings of the piano, whilst holding down the damper pedal. This gives an array of harmonics and overtones as the sound of the soprano vibrates the strings, adding a palpable depth to these classic themes.
The saxophonist’s own composition Soprano De Africana brings an ethnic feel to the fore with a variety of African folk instruments, such as the mbira and thumb piano along with numerous flutes, providing the inspiration for the album's most joyously rhythmic pieces.
This remarkable disc closes fittingly with a beautifully tender and lyrical reading of ‘Psalm’ the concluding segment of Coltrane’s prayer that will linger in the memory long after the last notes of the soprano have faded.
The album is dedicated to fellow soprano saxophonist, Lol Coxhill, who passed away in July.
The Art of the Soprano: Vol.1 is available from

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