The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 isn’t Sam Newsome’s first solo soprano saxophone recording, but it may be the most provocative and most complete of a trio of albums including 2009’s Blue Soliloquy and 2007’s Monk Abstractions. Newsome takes an organic, whole-horn approach, using every part of his soprano to create a surprising range of tones and rhythms: “It’s a dialogue between sound and silence,” as Newsome writes in his liner notes. And, yes, Sonny Rollins’ unaccompanied tenor work is an influence, as is the work of the late soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill, to whom the album is dedicated.
Newsome builds his playing and improvisations on three suites, individual pieces of which are shuffled throughout the CD rather than being ordered sequentially. For Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, he plays his horn into a piano’s strings, creating multiple harmonics and overtones that result in haunting atmospherics. On “Acknowledgement,” he uses tongue slaps and overblown notes to sound the signature theme. “Resolution” benefits from multiphonics, dissonance and some call-and-response patterns, as do “Pursuance” and “Psalm.” Newsome uses some similar techniques on the Ellington suite, with a buoyant “In a Mellow Tone,” a version of “In a Sentimental Mood” limned with neoclassical figures and a moody “Caravan” endowed with gorgeous long lines.
Newsome’s own suite, Soprano de Africana, was inspired by African folk instruments. For “Burkino Faso,” one of only two tracks incorporating overdubs, he uses his soprano as a virtual percussion instrument, bringing to mind the balaphone, while his horn adopts an almost electronic buzzing sound at the start of “Sub Saharan Dialogue.” Overdubs, to create layered percussive textures, are used again on “Zulu Witch Doctor,” and the suite closes out with “Fela!,” with Newsome’s riffs suggesting the cascading guitar figures of Nigerian Afrobeat master Fela Kuti.