|Voted Best Jazz Flutist in the Downbeat polls for seventeen consecutive years, James Newton (b. 1953) is widely considered the premier jazz flutist of his time. As evidenced by the three chamber works on this disc, he is also a fine composer whose music conveys a kaleidoscopic array of moods and inspirations.
The King’s Way (1989)—for soprano, flute, bassoon, violin, cello, harp, percussion, and piano—explores key moments in the life of Martin Luther King: his decision to take on the challenge of the Civil Rights struggle, the march to Selma, and the period after the “I have a dream” speech. Violet (1994-95)—for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and two marimbas—was written after a trip to South Africa and is dedicated to Winnie Mandela. In Newton’s words, “I have attempted in Violet… to create a cohesive musical whole made up of elements that come from Africa itself and the African Diaspora.” Gihon (1995)—the title refers to the second river named in Genesis—is a virtuoso piece for solo violin fusing jazz and classical idioms.
These three works are bracketed by two tour-de-forces for solo flute. Like Jasper and Carnelian (1997) and As the Sound of Many Waters (1998) constitute the first two chapters of a cycle which, when completed, will consist of seven pieces, all based on the Book of Revelations. Each of these controlled improvisations for flute displays Newton’s impressive breadth of style and technique. They encapsulate the entire history of the instrument in this century, from Edgard Varèse’s Density 21.5 to Luciano Berio’s Sequenza I, encompassing, too, the innovations of Roland Kirk and Eric Dolphy.