Sam Newsome – Blue Soliloquy (2010)

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Sam Newsome, who first came into wider notice as a tenor-playing member of the Terence Blanchard Quintet in the early 1990s, takes the soprano to places both familiar and new on “Blue Soliloquy.”

Subtitled “Solo works for the soprano saxophone,” it’s Newsome’s tone-poem love letter to what makes his new instrument such a freeing experience. No longer having to “carry on my shoulders decades of the great tenor saxophone legacy,” as he says, Newsome crashes through convention — scrambling form and tone.

Really more blues-inspired than blues per se, “Soliloquy” aims to have us along on a journey that connects the idiom with a wider spectrum of sound — from the Far East to Africa, then back to Europe.

Newsome cuts around the edges of the soprano’s fundamentally sweet sound to mimic double-reed instruments from the Middle East, the native singing of Mongolia, bamboo flutes from the Orient.

In this way, Newsome, over 15 songs in this independent release, expands our own conception of what the instrument can sound like. Still there are times, as he explores, when the album might have felt unmoored from any kind of music at all — had he not inserted a few sign posts to guide you along.

He brushes by Sonny Rollins, as on the aptly named “Blues Swagger,” in a quest to integrate extended saxophone solos into the accepted blues vocabulary. Newsome recalls his critically acclaimed 2007 Thelonious Monk tribute “Monk Abstractions” on the stuttering opener, “Blues for Robert Johnson” — and on the recording’s only cover, the closing “Blue Monk.”

“Blue Beijing” quickly swirls from the pastoral to the hypnotic, recalling John Coltrane, with a circular breathing technique that allows Newsome to play the tune without a break in the sound. (You hear some Coltrane in the droning “Blue Hum of the Holy Breath,” too.)

He creates a rhythm to “Blue Mbira” by popping his tongue out of the reed, ala Rahsaan Roland Kirk. “Blue Lacy Coleman” features the harmolodic improvisational style associated with Ornette Coleman, while paying tribute to fellow liberator Steve Lacy.

And, for all of his challenging experimentation, Newsome always finds his way back to the sonic backstreets of the Mississippi Delta — notably on “Blue Pulpit,” a minor blues that recalls the call-and-response of field hollers or a church sermon, and on the impish “Blue Sunday.”

The terrain “Soliloquy” moves across might be too rugged for many, but the work doesn’t lack for intimacy, and it’s refreshingly un-self indulgent. Newsome travels all over, yet still brings it home again.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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