Monday, December 8, 2014

The Soprano Supreme + Trio Delight + Lee K Sells Out

With the release of "The Straight Horn of Africa: The Path to Liberation" (Some New Music), the adventurous soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome continues his exploration of solo performances.  This new recording, subtitled "The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2", uses African percussion (courtesy of "slap tonguing and multiple overdubs), harmonics, circular breathing and sinuous melodies to tell a 21-song program and to seduce the listener.  Over the course of (now) 4 "solo" CDs, Mr. Newsome has explored the music of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, the Blues and its African roots.  "The Path to Liberation" features lovely melodies, soprano saxophone choruses, abstract sounds, microtonal experiments, dazzling dances, most if not all inspired by the myriad voices of the African continent.

The use of overdubs brought to mind the "solo" work of Julius Hemphill, in particular his self-released 1977 masterpiece, "Blue Boye", reissued on CD in 1999 on Tim Berne's Screwgun label. The music is totally different - for one, the earlier recording spreads 8 tracks over 2 LPs and CDs (no cut shorter than 8:24) while Mr. Newsome's program runs around 54 minutes (no cut longer than 4:16 and 8 under 1:51). The saxophonist delves into the rich wellspring of the music from the African continent with tracks such as the pair of hypnotic dances "The Obama Song: The Man From Kenya" and "The Snake Charmer of Tangier" (hear below), the funky "Good Golly Miss Mali", and the birdsongs of "Sounds of Somalia" (played in the higher registers of the instrument and sounding like an orchestra of flutes.) He pays tribute to the Falasha community of Ethiopia on "Ethopian Jews" and creates swirling rhythmical lines on "African Nomads."  The playfulness of "When The Drum Speaks" and "Nightfall on the Owani Desert" sets the stage for the final track for the dancing sounds of "Highlife", a delightful romp over the "clicking" rhythms.

There are more "experimental" pieces, such as the striking "Dark Continent Dialogues" and the 4-part  "Microtonal Nubian Horn" spread around the second half of the program.  And, as one listens to these pieces, the sound of fellow soprano master Evan Parker might come to mind, especially the more hypnotic of melody lines such as the one the latter musician recorded on his 2006 Tzadik CD, "Time Lapse."

But, like Julius Hemphill before him and his contemporary Evan Parker, Sam Newsome continues to carve his own pathways through the world of music.  Much of the music on "The Straight Horn of Africa: The Path to Liberation" is exhilarating, making one return to this adventure time and again.  For more information about the man and his music, go to Also, check out this excellent interview with Mr. Newsome from the Wing Walker Music podcast:

Live gig of the week:
The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme welcomes back Cuban-born pianist Manuel Valera on Saturday December 13.  This time, he brings his very active Trio, an ensemble that includes the fine bassist Hans Glawischnig and the exciting drummer EJ Strickland (the twin brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland.) Valera has had a busy 2014, releasing a splendid solo piano CD (my review here) and a powerful Criss Cross recording with his septet The New Cuban Express.  The Trio plays all sorts of music, from blues to Latin to Cuban to "straight-ahead piano trio music."

The Side Door opens at 7:30 p.m. and the first set starts at 8:30.  For more information, go to or call 860-434-0886.

Lee Konitz is playing this Friday night (12/12) at Firehouse 12 in New Haven with a quartet that features bassist Jeremy Stratton, the great drummer George Schuller and the wonderful pianist Alan Broadbent. It's the ultimate concert in the venue's Fall 2014 Concert Series and both sets are sold out (have been for awhile).  There's a waiting list so call 203-785-0468 or go to  Can't hurt trying.

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