On listing the instruments that Newsome plays, I’m not following the liner notes or press release – but just stating where this master of the avant-garde exploration of the saxophone is currently at. While he is adept at multiphonics and layering of sounds, or tapping and clicking the keys, or making percussive sounds with the mouthpiece, he is equally at home with chimes hanging off the body of the sax, or plastic tubes between mouthpiece and body (producing sounds not unlike a didgeridoo). If you think all this sounds like willful perversity and showmanship, then you’re very much mistaken. Newsome works such elegantly structured compositions that you quickly forget to focus on how each sound might have been made and concentrate on the richly textured lyricism of his compositions. Even the most atonal of the pieces have a clear defined logic and purpose, despite titles like ‘Marching towards insanity’ (track 4) or ‘Chaos theory’ (tracks 1, 5, 10, 14). Indeed, strictly speaking ‘chaos’ is not the same as randomness (in the sense of being unpredictable), but rather a form of mathematics in which small changes in the conditions in one part of a system can result in large changes elsewhere.
This feels a neat encapsulation Newsome’s approach. In the liner notes, he calls these ‘experimental recordings’ and says that his approach is ‘quit while I’m ahead. Allowing things to go on for too long after I’ve made my point, I run the risk of boring the listener – and more importantly, boring myself.’ The one thing that these recordings are most definitely not is boring. Newsome’s experiments last from just over 1 minute to just under 5 minutes (most are on the shorter side), but all of them introduce, develop and resolve complex organisations of sound. What he does so well is to present very challenging experimental music-making in ways that are immediate and accessible – as long, as he says, as the listener is ‘willing to immerse him or herself in what’s before them’. Across all of the pieces, while other musicians might be content to present the listener with swathes of noise, Newsome is continually striving to unearth melodies from these layers of sound.