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Addis Ababa

James Newton

Once you've heard James Newton on the flute, you don't easily forget it. His playing is technically stunning and often pushes against the limits of what's possible on the instrument, but at the same time his sound is extremely refined and almost always easy on the ears. Newton began his career auspiciously as part of Black Music Infinity, a tragically unrecorded ensemble formed in 1972 in Los Angeles by Stanley Crouch. In addition to his many records as soloist and leader, he has since collaborated with many important figures, including Anthony Davis, Abdul Wadud, Sam Rivers, David Murray, and Leroy Jenkins. (An earlier Possible Music post mentioned Newton's work with Indian saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath.)

Named after the capital city of modern Ethiopia, "Addis Ababa" is from Newton's 1982 album Axum, inspired by the great kingdom of northeastern Africa that was one of the foremost empires of the world in the early first millennium CE, along with Rome, Persia, and China. The album's cover features an image from an ancient Ethiopian "magic scroll," which were (and are) used as spells and charms by the people of the region. The music on Axum is entirely performed by Newton, with ample overdubbing on concert, alto, and bass flutes. Some pieces are improvised, others are notated, without much being made of this distinction. As Tim Page writes in the liner notes, "Jazz? New music? Who cares?"


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