Los Angeles-born flutist James Newton (1953)
became a full-time flutist in 1973 in a band with saxophonist David Murray,
and moved to New York in 1978 where he played with pianist Anthony Davis.
Classically trained, Newton absorbed Roland Kirk's and Eric Dolphy's jazz
influence. He also nurtured a passion for the musical traditions of Japan,
India, Africa and South America.
For his first album, Flute Music (september 1977), containing the first version
of Solomon's Sons, he surrounded his flute with piano/harpsichord, guitar, bass and drums.
Paseo Del Mar (november 1978), for a quartet with pianist Anthony Davis, cellist Abdul Wadud and drummer Phillip Wilson, contained two lengthy compositions, Lake, basically a tribute to Eric Dolphy, and San Pedro Sketches, a dynamic and soulful piece with some overdubbing of the flute.
From Inside (july 1978) was his first solo effort, highlighted by his Pinky Below.
Binu (august 1977) was a quartet with a koto player
bass (Mark Dresser) and drums.
Newton's elegant, spiritual and eclectic form of chamber jazz blossomed with the Wind Quintet (John Carter on clarinet, John Nunez on bassoon, Charles Owens on oboe and English horn, Red Callender on tuba) that recorded Mystery School (march 1980), in particular the suite The Wake
A few Newton compositions appeared on Anthony Davis albums, notably
Crystal Texts Set I Pre-A Reflection on Hidden Voices (march 1979)
Juneteenth and After You Said Yes on I've Known Rivers (april 1982).
James Newton (october 1982) marked another dimension of his fusion of classical music and jazz music. The septet was his first ensemble to include drums and bass, but the other instruments, flute, piano (Davis), violin, trombone and vibraphone (Jay Hoggard), engaged in highly technical counterpoint (Ismene was basically a tribute to Thelonious Monk).
Ditto for Portraits (november 1979), a quintet with flute, piano (Bob Neloms), cello (Abdul Wadud), bass (Cecil McBee) and drums (Phillip Wilson).
This process culminated with Luella (1983), scored for a three-piece string section (two violins and Wadud's cello) and a four-piece rhythm section (Hoggard's vibraphone, piano, bass and drums), particularly the mournful 17-minute Luella.
In between, Newton tried the solo format, the one favored by the "creative" school.
However, the solo flute trance-like impressionistic improvisations of
Toil And Resolution (march 1980),
Axum (august 1981) and Echo Canyon (september 1984) had little of the
virtuoso, scientific approach of Chicago's soloists. Newton showed little
interest for timbral or textural explorations. His music was more similar to
mood music. It expanded the vocabulary of the instrument only insofar as it
absorbed techniques from other ethnic cultures.
Thus it bordered on both world-music and new-age music.
The tentet effort Water Mystery (january 1985) for flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, saxophone, harp, koto, tuba, bass and drums was another zenith of Newton's chamber arrangements: Lone Hill juxtaposed a quintessential western instrument (the harp) and a quintessential eastern instrument (the koto) that interacted with a jazzy wind quintet, while Water Mystery was African folk in nature.
Romance and Revolution (august 1986) was mostly devoted to covers of Mingus and Coleman, but also included Newton's The Evening Leans Towards You for an septet (Steve Turre on trombone, Geri Allen on piano, Abdul Wadud on cello, Jay Hoggard on vibraphone, bass and drums).
He wasted the superb tentet of African Flower (june 1985) in Duke Ellington
After the solo In Venice (october 1987) and If Love (april 1990) for a quartet with piano, drums and bass, Newton found his inspiration again in the
32-minute four-movement Suite for Frida Kahlo for flute, two trombones, piano, clarinet/sax, bassoon, drums and bass on Suite for Frida Kahlo (august 1994).
Above Is Above All (1997) was another solo-flute album.
Sacred Works collects the 40-minute Mass (composed in 2006 and 2007, and recorded in august 2009) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass-baritone, flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, bass, piano and percussion. and the 20-minute In A Moment, In The Twinkling Of An Eye (2004) for soprano, clarinet, bassoon and piano.
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