Sam Newsome has dedicated himself to the soprano saxophone exclusively since the early '90s. He has a piping, flutelike sound, especially in the altissimo register, and a concentrated, motivic manner of improvising. The tunes on This Masquerade, performed by a quartet, are familiar standards, but Newsome reconstructs them through reharmonization and rhythmic fragmentation. His rhythm section includes pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Gene Jackson. (Jackson proves volatile and impressive throughout the album.)
The retooling of the tunes is more attractive than Newsome's tone and expression, which are more clinical than warm. "Satin Doll" appears in exotic dress, and Newsome's solo initially takes an incantationlike turn. The rhythm section runs hot-blooded behind him. On "The Girl From Ipanema" the band breaks up the melody and employs new harmony, giving the old gal a new shapeliness. Newsome takes "Footprints" at a slower-than-usual tempo, his birdlike tone and careful articulation turning the head into almost an Irish melody.
It's safe to say that rarely have these tunes (as well as "Stella by Starlight," "Blue Monk," "What's New," the title tune and the other compositions on the album) received such extensive makeovers. And Newsome's command of the hard-to-control soprano is admirable. He's clean, in-tune and has an original approach.