Yusef Lateef: Eastern Sounds Turns 50
In contrast to Evans' meditative approach, the version on Eastern Sounds is lively. Harris plays fluidly, in a tempo that evokes a gentle mountain stream, as Humphries adds to the vivid imagery with his brushes and the enchanting and unforgettable melody flows seamlessly back and forth between Harris and Lateef. Miles Davis is quoted, in Joe Goldberg 's liner notes for the Eastern Sounds re-release, as saying: "Fuck jazz. Alex North is The Man." Amen to that, what a melody.
Lateef also covered the love theme from 1953's The Robe, another popular Hollywood movie. It was written by nine-time Academy Award-winning film score composer Alfred Newman (uncle of Randy Newman). It has a feel Jimmy Herring fans might recall from "The Jungle Book Overture," from Lifeboat (Abstract Logix, 2008.) On "Snafu," Lateef demonstrates his ability to use power in a way that might appeal to fans of Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane. On the final (and shortest) track, "The Three Faces of Balal," Lateef returns to his cultural exploration, with Farrow again playing rubab instead of bass for a piece that gently closes the album and reinforces the charm of restraint and simplicity.
Two months after Eastern Sounds was recorded, John Coltrane's legendary residency at the Village Vanguard was captured on tape, revealing that he, too, was influenced by Eastern music. Both men were following their own spiritual paths, however: Coltrane considered music a universal structure of sounds and scales that held the potential to influence people and the physical world, and he believed a musician's goal should be to understand and utilize this power (see John Coltrane: His Life and Music (Univ of Michigan, 2000), by Lewis Porter); Lateef uses the term autophysiopsychic to describe his music, which he explains as: "That which comes from one's physical, spiritual, and emotional self" (for more, see Yusef Lateef: Roots & Routes, here at All About Jazz).
Blues fans who eventually find themselves drawn to jazz tend to quickly gravitate to John Coltrane and Miles Davis. For those people, Lateef's classic Eastern Soundsor, for the iPod generation, his recording of "Eboness," from The Diverse (Atlantic, 1969)is another worthy entry point.
George Gershwin once said: "True music must repeat the thoughts and inspirations of the people and the time. My people are Americans and my time is today." Yusef Lateef took a different approach on Eastern Sounds. He saw mankind as one, and allowed the currents of the past and present to flow through his music. Dr. Lateef will turn 91 on October 9th, 2011, and I wish him the very best.