June 11, 1984 12:00 PM

James Newton

“Two months before I went into the studio to record this album,” Newton writes, “my aunt, Mrs. Luella Scott, was brutally murdered at the age of 57 in Lubbock, Texas. After the initial reaction of deep despair, I started to concentrate on her radiant beauty and the depth of her spirit.” The 17-minute piece that follows is a profound, engrossing and highly emotional odyssey for two violins, cello, vibraharp, piano, bass, drums and Newton’s peerless flute. A lot of young jazz players have first-rate conservatory educations today, but their most ambitious compositions too often sound turgidly academic and solemn. Not so with Newton, 32. Since the big band era, the flute has been the stepchild of sax players, who would pull it out occasionally for a shift in orchestra shading or “double” on it as soloists, often with brilliant results (Eric Dolphy, Yusef Lateef, Frank Wess). But there have been few full-time flute players in jazz, certainly none with the phenomenal virtuosity and romanticism of Newton. Side One of this, his second album as a leader, comprises a lonesome but tensile ballad called Not Without You; a peppery tribute, Mr. Dolphy, that perfectly captures the late innovator’s pell-mell precipitousness; and a tender, cresting ballad by Wayne Shorter, Anna Maria. On Side Two, Newton’s compositional powers are displayed with a contentious triptych on apartheid, Diamonds Are for Freedom, and the title piece. Newton’s accompanists, by the way, play with no less prowess than he does. This is new music that anyone can relate to. (Gramavision)

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