Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Monday, January 4, 2016

Soprano Madness: A Straight Horn Meeting of the Minds

Tenor saxophone-oriented meetings of the minds are a dime a dozen. These types of musical encounters have been documented for decades. From the Lester Young/Coleman Hawkins Kansas City battles; to The Four Brothers with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff; and of course, the infamous Tenor Madness session between Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane--all of which has become the standard by which tenor saxophone battles are measured.

And contrary to popular belief there have been a few meetings of the minds amongst soprano saxophonists. The first being the classic 1987  Live Under the Sky concert, later released as a DVD titled A Tribute to John Coltrane, which featured Dave Liebman and Wayne Shorter on the soprano saxophones, with 1980s jazz icons Richie Beirach on piano, Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This recording is a testament to the undeniable high-energy potential of the soprano, which is probably only rivaled by the trumpet.

Another such famous straight horn encounter amongst fans of the avant-garde is the 1992 recording The Three Blokes, which was recorded live by Jost Gerbers from September 25 - 27, as a part of the Free Concerts series at the Townhall Charlottenburg in Berlin, Germany. This three-night improvisational exchange between Evan Parker and soprano saxophone specialists Steve Lacy and Lol Coxhill certainly proved one thing: The soprano saxophone may not always be ideal as a single lead instrument, but it certainly works well as a part of a straight horn collective. The imperfections seem to compliment each other in a way that other instruments can't.

The Soprano Saxophone Colossus (a name coined by Dave Liebman) is another such meeting of the minds amongst straight horn enthusiasts. This performance took place on December 20, 2015, at The Cornelia Street Café in the West Village section of Manhattan. It featured Dave Liebman, French saxophonist Michel Doneda, who rarely performs in New York, Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion, one of Doneda’s frequent collaborators, and yours truly.

You might say that this performance had the energy of the 1987 Liebman/Shorter encounter and the enumerable sonic nuances of The Three Blokes, channeled through each of our own unique voices--individually and collectively.

There was no discussion of what we were going to play. In fact, most of what was said before our performance was along the lines of “Nice to finally meet you,” "Glad we’re finally getting a chance to play,” and “How long will you be in New York.” After that, it was pure musical telepathy.

And I’m not sure when, or if ever we will play again. I’m just happy that fate allowed us to meet on that memorable evening.

My 2016 New Year's resolution will be to decipher some of those interesting sounds that Dave and Michel were getting. They were certainly going beyond the original scope of the instrument. I hope to have it figured out before 2017.


P.S. You're about to hear why I called this blog post "Soprano Madness."

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