released November 3, 2023
Sam Newsome – soprano saxophone and horn preparations
Jean-Michel Pilc – piano
Recorded June 7, 2022 at Maggie’s Farm Studio
Produced by Matt Balitsaris
Mixing and mastering by Katsuhiko Naito
All tracks by Newsome/Pilc except where noted.
- Sounds From My Morning Window
- The Enigma’s Melody
- All The Things You Are (Kern)
- The Two Faces Of Samuel Augustus
- How Deep Is The Ocean (Berlin)
- Cosmic Unconsciousness Unplugged
- Bittersweet Euphoria: Part 1
- Bittersweet Euphoria: Part 2
- The Storm Before The Quiet
- Take The A Train (Strayhorn)
- Dancing Like No One’s Watching (But Everyone Is)
- Serenading Seismic Waves
- Skyward Lullaby
- Lost In Translation
- Solitude (Ellington)
Saxophonist Sam Newsome and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc return for more duo exploration on the sonically adventurous COSMIC UNCONSCIOUSNESS UNPLUGGED
Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” He wasn’t cautioning against expertise or learning, but encouraging his students to approach each moment as if it were brand new. On their new duo recording, Cosmic Unconsciousness Unplugged, saxophonist Sam Newsome and pianist Jean-Michel Pilc take this concept to heart, stepping into the studio with no preconceived ideas about what will happen next.
“It’s all very spontaneous,” Newsome said. “We didn’t talk about the music much. We’ve never rehearsed, and I don’t think we’ve ever done a second take of anything. Either it works or it doesn’t. We’re not coming in with any agenda, other than to get out of the way of the music that wants to reveal itself.”
What reveals itself is a constant restlessness, a pushing against the boundaries, whether through spontaneous improvisation or through the exploration and transformation of familiar tunes from the canon. Both Newsome and Pilc find new sounds with their instruments; Newsome by using tube extensions and noise makers for his soprano saxophone, and Pilc via prepared piano. At times on Cosmic Unconsciousness Unplugged, it’s hard to identify exactly which player is making which sound, which frees the mind of the listener to explore the forest rather than count the trees.
This album is a follow-up to 2017’s critically praised Magic Circle, their first album of duets. In the years since, Newsome has greatly expanded the range of sounds he can pull from his instrument using his special modifications.
“Since we recorded the first one, my sonic repertoire has increased significantly,” Newsome said, “so I really wanted to see how the sounds I’m working with now would work in this duo context.”
One of the most striking sounds is the digeridoo-like low tone of his modified soprano saxophone, heard to great effect on “Serenading Seismic Waves.” Newsome first recorded an ostinato with the modified horn, over which he and Pilc then improvised. That haunting sound appears again on their version of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep Is The Ocean,” a daring take on the standard that makes the question of the title seem almost ominous.
Newsome is happy to mine the jazz canon for inspiration, taking a cue from guitarist Bern Nix’s “avant-traditionalist” idea.
“For me, it’s very important to maintain those ties to the tradition,” said Newsome, “but I want to do it in my own way. I record those types of tunes when I feel like I’m free to not have to ‘switch bags’ and become a straight-ahead player. I’m still operating within this experimental mindset. Being free to be traditional or to be more exploratory at a moment’s notice.”
Newsome said he chooses songs that have “been done to death” so he can clearly highlight the available possibilities: “What makes it effective is to find new ways of playing that kind of tune, and then you can give the listener insight into the uniqueness of what you do. I think in that framework, it becomes easier to appreciate and understand what I’m doing.”
The connection between these two master players is obvious from the first notes of the opener, “Sounds From My Morning Window.” Newsome and Pilc build a gentle soundscape of piano and chimes, out of which emerges a powerful rhythmic figure. Newsome soars over the top as the piece grows and grows. If you didn’t already know, you’d never guess that this all started from a blank page. The album is full of highlights: Check out Newsome’s phasing soprano sound on “Dancing Like No One’s Watching (But Everyone Is)” or Pilc’s tender and spacious opening to “Skyward Lullaby” or their tightrope walk over “All The Things You Are.”
COSMIC UNCONSCIOUSNESS UNPLUGGED is the result of two players at the top of their game stepping into the studio with no plan other than listening and creation. It is a true meeting of the (beginners’) minds.