There's no separating James Newton's musical accomplishments from his instrument of choice: in his hands, the jazz flute has reached the likely pinnacle of its evolution. Classically trained but artistically intrepid, Newton combines Hubert Laws's rosy timbres with the streaked earth tones of Eric Dolphy, screaming post-Coltrane imprecations with classic Ellingtonia, etching fine details on even the most epic lines. And he clearly conceives these intricacies with the flute in mind. But for all that, I think his playful, passionate compositions would still grab the ear had he mastered any other instrument. Take his 1994 Suite for Frida Kahlo (Audioquest): within a chamber-jazz format that featured a bassoon, reeds, and two trombones, Newton created a sprawling evocation of four paintings by the proto-feminist Mexican; his flute played an important role, but not necessarily the central one. His skittering leaps on the fast sections and martial-arts serenity on the slow opening movement would have sounded right on a variety of instruments. In Chicago Newton will play with a couple of trios led by percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, so you won't hear much along the lines of his last album, Above Is Above All (Contour), which bathed his flute in elaborate electronic orchestrations; a better model is probably David Murray/James Newton Quintet (DIW), a disc recorded in 1991 on which Newton joined Murray's working quartet, plying straight swingers and high-energy jams with equal panache. Friday, 9 and 11 PM, and Saturday, 9 PM, 11 PM, and 1 AM, Rituals, 537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.