June 01, 1987 12:00 PM

James Newton

A temptingly quick way to identify James Newton is to call him the Wynton Marsalis of the flute. That establishes the level of his virtuosity and the depth of his affection and respect for the jazz masters who have preceded him. But Newton, like Marsalis, is an individual. In his composition Forever Charles (for Mingus, who Newton says “has had the greatest influence on my compositional approach”), he captures Mingus’ burly, whip-cracking spirit, with trombonists Steve Turre and Robin Eubanks wah-wahing and wailing the piece onward as Newton fashions a wonderfully earthy solo from a few notes. One of the lessons Newton seems to have learned from Mingus is how to structure extended compositions. With some artists, these pieces flick back and forth randomly between swinging or bluesy sections and all-out free blowing. But in Newton’s The Evening Leans Toward You the episodes are connected emotionally. Through a series of seamless escalations, the octet builds to a swirling plateau, releasing energy that has been building since the piece began. This section blows over like a storm, clearing the sky for Jay Hoggard’s extended vibraphone solo and the piece’s sunsetlike resolution. Ornette Coleman’s Peace is a showcase for Newton’s bottomless resources as a soloist. It’s not only what he can do with the flute—growl through it, sting with it, turn notes into taffy pulls—but he never decorates. What he plays seems to bubble up from inside the spirit of the piece. (Blue Note)

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