Where to start with this one? Perhaps with James Newton, who has established himself as modern jazz’s preeminent flutist without sacrificing his talent for performing classical music (both new and old). Newton has incorporated the innovations of Eric Dolphy–who played the flute with an unprecedented emotional forcefulness–into a style that boasts flawless technique and improvisational daring. This is not news: for instance, when the Jazz Institute of Chicago contracted Newton for one of his earliest local appearances, back in 1983, his reputation already preceded him. For that concert the JIC asked Ed Wilkerson to put together a big band; the resultant ensemble, 26 strong, became Shadow Vignettes (whose very occasional performances have added a new wrinkle to their name). The reunion of this singular flutist and this rarely assembled musical army would alone generate high expectations; that they will perform several works written especially for this event raises the stakes deliciously. Specifically, this concert opens the way for a meeting of the minds regarding the sine qua non of jazz composition, Duke Ellington. Newton scored critics’ honors with his rearrangement of Ellington classics on 1985’s The African Flower, while Wilkerson’s compositions for his smaller band, 8 Bold Souls, have bloomed with hothouse adaptations of Ellington’s tonal palette and rhythmic complexity. And the Vignettes’ lineup–including reedmen Mwata Bowden and Ernest Dawkins, trumpeters Robert Griffin and Rod McGaha, vocalists Rita Warford and Bernard Mixon, and seven string players–provides a “who’s who” charisma all its own. (This concert is cosponsored by the Jazz Institute of Chicago; this writer serves on the board of that organization.) Saturday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th; 702-8068.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Hollis.