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Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation

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On soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome’s The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation, the second entry in his The Art of the Soprano series, one hears, in addition to the leader’s ax, the sounds of mbira, synthesizer, flute and clarinet. But that’s all that’s present: the sounds of those instruments. By way of extended techniques and overdubbing, everything on Straight Horn is actually Newsome’s soprano. (Well, there is piano on one track.) With just a saxophone and forward thinking, Newsome has created a strange and intimate world of African-influenced music. It all feels special and original. Straight Horn is a stunning statement.

Particularly arresting is when Newsome improvises with himself. On “The Snake Charmer of Tangier,” for instance, the saxophonist lays down an ancient-sounding harmonized riff. Then, once the listener has grown acclimated to the structure, Newsome starts soloing. He prays, sings and despairs. He investigates the higher spaces of his instrument, and one is reminded of klezmer as his soprano channels the clarinet. And on the funky “The Obama Song: The Man From Kenya,” Newsome sets up a percussion-like riff and then speaks his mind on top. When he begins to improvise, it feels as if he’s been set free, and anything is possible. The concept of playing against a recording of yourself is not new, but here it feels rejuvenated and authentic. Almost punk, or DIY. When you’re as skilled and ambitious as Newsome, who needs a band? There is nothing missing from Straight Horn.

Originally Published