Arthur Blythe: Focus (2002)
Two obscure Monk tunes, actually expansions of prior art, are assayed here. “Children’s Song,” a recasting of “This Old Man,” is taken slowly and decorated by Blythe’s signature wide vibrato. “Stuffy Turkey,” drawing heavily from Coleman Hawkins’ “Stuffy”, gets the Bourbon Street treatment; Stewart’s vigorous puffing sounds perfectly fitting, and Brooks is sufficiently flexible to negotiate all the different turns this multi-hued album takes.
Two duo tracks offer Blythe and friends a chance for more introspective action. “Once Again” is a mysterious duet for Blythe and Tsilis, their lines woven together like a rich textile. As the altoist matches wits with Stewart on “Hip Toe,” they fill in the numerous spaces nicely with spontaneous phrases and thoughtful responses.
Only Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” flounders, and significantly so. Blythe’s intonation is quite unsteady at times, and Tsilis mostly noodles with a seeming lack of direction as if he were unfamiliar with the tune. However, Blythe quickly redeems things on the title piece, a too-short solo of impressive lyricism which brings a satisfying end to a most surprising experience. More evidence that Blythe still has plenty of good, creative notions within his expansive mind.
Track Listing: Opus 1; Children
Personnel: Arthur Blythe, alto sax; Gust William Tsilis, concert grand marimba; Bob Stewart, tuba; Cecil Brooks III, drums.
Record Label: Savant Records