Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome & Global Unity

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Sam Newsome established himself as a post-bop tenor saxophonist in the early to mid-'90s, but he soon began playing soprano exclusively. He also abandoned mainstream jazz in favor of an idiosyncratic world music concept that he debuted on this, his first major-label recording. Sparse and unconventional, Newsome's Global Unity ensemble has a distinctly Middle Eastern flavor, thanks to Amos Hoffman's oud and Gilad's hand percussion. Elizabeth Kontomanou's wordless vocals evoke the aesthetic of African chant, as does the "vocal percussion" of Natalie Cushman and Lisa Michel. Ugonna Okegwo's upright bass and Newsome's soprano are the only conventional jazz instruments on the record. There are nods to standard repertoire with "Caravan" and "Afro Blue," two vamp-based jazz classics that lend themselves well to the concept at hand. In both cases, Newsome continues an ostinato figure even when the melodies clash -- a clear indication that he's not interested in playing by the rules. The disc is also graced with fairly abstract readings of the traditional "Go Down Moses" and Chick Corea's "Crystal Silence," the latter a closing duet for soprano sax and voice. Newsome's five originals are striking, none more so than the loquaciously titled opening track, "It's Not the Size of the Horn, It's How You Swing It!," with its driving 7/8 groove and nearly bizarre harmonic pivots.

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