Sam Newsome & Jean-Michel Pilc: Magic Circle

Review of duo album by soprano saxophonist and pianist

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Cover of Sam Newsome & Jean-Michel Pilc album Magic Circle

Pioneering soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome and thinking man’s pianist Jean-Michel Pilc need no words or paper to guide them in an open-minded tête-à-tête. Their simpatico relationship and respective skills simply take them wherever they need to go.

For this program, these two old friends settled into a Brooklyn studio, had the engineer give the green light and got down to the business of making music sans discussion. Everything captured and released is a first-and-only take, highlighting deep listening skills and high-level spontaneity.

Newsome’s extended techniques and Pilc’s philosophical bent lightly color many of these performances in positive fashion. The saxophonist’s popping articulations and split tones are used judiciously, while the pianist’s musings mesh with the spirit of the day without pushing things toward a meditative realm. The music speaks clearly to curiosity, intelligence, playfulness, a love for the journey and a balanced appreciation for what’s lost and found.

In these seven standards and two improvised originals, Newsome and Pilc bask in the light of the known and the shadows of the unknown. The opening “Autumn Leaves” makes that apparent. It starts with 100 seconds of melodic purity, where Newsome’s soprano rolls out the familiar melody while Pilc flirts with the part of accompanist provocateur. Then the piano sets up a firm figure, interplay and engagement of a more familiar sort enters the frame, Newsome departs for a spell and both men get sucked into an intriguing and hypnotic loop. It’s pure musical conversation, with its concomitant directness and detours. Much of what follows—an “In a Sentimental Mood” that’s anything but, a freewheeling yet focused “Giant Steps,” an attractively fraying “Ask Me Now”—simply furthers what that first track tells us: Sam Newsome and Jean-Michel Pilc were made for each other.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Magic Circle by Sam Newsome and Jean-Michel Pilc on iTunes.