JazzTimes 10: Essential Jazz Flute Albums

So you say the flute isn't a key jazz instrument? It can still blow your mind.

6. Hubert Laws: Afro-Classic (CTI, 1970)

No jazz flute list would be complete without Hubert Laws, and it’s hard to even mention his name without Afro-Classic coming immediately to mind. The album didn’t just make Laws (who was previously known only to hardcore jazz fans) a star; it made the CTI label an institution in the burgeoning world of jazz fusion. The fusion here wasn’t merely that of jazz and electric funk/rock, but also of classical music. Laws gives precise readings of a Mozart sonatas and a J.S. Bach piece—perhaps the only arrangements of either for flute and electric piano—then improvises on another Bach (“Passacaglia in C Minor,” on which both the flutist and keyboardist Bob James sound truly spooky). He applies a similar dark groove to James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” and Francis Lai’s “Theme from Love Story,” with both coming out of the same voodoo that made In a Silent Way the year before. If it also subtly points the way toward the overproduced cheese that would come to dominate the CTI sound, it’s nevertheless a perfect specimen of its moment in time, as presented by one of jazz’s genuine pop stars.

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Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.