James Newton “Flute Music”

When it comes to showing what’s possible with the flute, it doesn’t get any better than James Newton. His playing is otherworldly. His compositions become these lush sonic valleys that rise from nothing organically, infused with a pointed whimsy As a composer, he creates beautiful, whimsical worlds that drift and change direction like a river cutting through the land over millennia. Like the gradual changes to the alluvial plane, Newton is never still, but the gentle sonic flow sends us across dimensions with grace.

Flute Music is Newton’s first solo album, long out-of-print and thankfully rescued by Morning Trip. For those unfamiliar with Newton’s brilliance, it’s a perfect introduction, and for those who are already well-versed in his talents, it’s fantastic to get an official edition that sounds stellar.

The two-part “Arkansas Suite” opens Flute Music and works as a perfect overview. Settling into a solo groove, Newton traipses through the sky like a stunt plane doing loops on “Benny.” Clovis Bordeaux’s harpsichord on the second half of the Arkansas Suite is an enriching counterpoint to the lilting hypnosis Newton spreads like a soft summer rain. It’s a unique combination, but even with the surprising instrumentation, Newton’s flute passages glow the brightest.

I often think of the incredible I’ve Known Rivers album that features Newton alongside pianist Anthony Davis and cellist Abdul Wadud. Even with two other all-time greats, his playing transcends. There’s such clarity to the way he executes his ideas. Every note is so considered that it adds to the power of his work. This becomes especially obvious in the solo pieces like “Sophisticated Lady.” Newton soars. He bobs and weaves with such precision that it’s impossible not to get lost in the romance of it all. His light touch is a surprising force; feathers on glass that are still imbued with a powerful sonic force that leaves cracks like etches in our memories. 

Les Coulter is a real unsung hero on Flute Music as his smooth guitar lines invite listeners into these warm spaces with a smile. They add color to the deep blue night, while Tylon Barea’s percussive exudes scatter around like pinpricks on the skin. He even brings a further airiness to “Darlene’s Bossa,” skirting the edges and dancing along through the tropics while Newton sends in a deluge of sunbeams. 

The side-long “Poor Theron” is an absolute masterpiece on its own. Newton takes us through a seemingly endless array of lucid dreams. Minimal architecture shoots off at every angle and these strange, wonderful structures are the perfect playground for Newton and his cohorts to color with intricate shading and ever-shifting cadences. Glen Ferris’s trombone becomes a circling airplane that gives the piece a wide spatial scope, like every subtle shift and tonal sweep is being viewed from above, each a small part in a larger choreographed expression. There’s an aura of early ECM records that pulls it together like a silver thread.

Newton waves his flute like a magic wand and this incredible journey comes to an end. Flute Music is an essential piece of jazz history and this reissue is crucial. 


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