Yusuf Lateef: The Blue Lateef

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Let me start out by saying this is one fine, tasty disc. For those unfamiliar with Lateef’s work, he is a multi-reedist, composer, arranger who has been working from at least the 1950s and is still going strong, making the textures of music richer for all. This is significant; Lateef is the one who brought the world into jazz, a ground breaker who used ancient and popular forms to make all kinds of strong music. There were some lapses, of course, but everyone has those. I had the honor to shake his hand at the recent IAJE conference in New York, and plan to follow through on his current activities as an educator and as owner of his own label, YAL.

In the last few years, I have reviewed more than a few reissues praising Brother Yusef’s contributions for lifting what would have been a standard, solid session into something of note. The disc at hand is a straight reissue of Atlantic LP 1508, recorded in New York in 1968, with all that implies, and more. This would be a fine starting-off point for anyone interested in Yuself Lateef’s work, and a necessity for any fan lacking this disc. Just look at the players listed below: not a weak link, and each a strong leader in his own right. This is when jazz turned electric funky, and though there are many elements of r’n’b here (this is an Atlantic record, after all) there are no trendy lapses of taste here. Another positive is that none of these tracks appear on the Rhino/Atlantic Lateef two-disc Anthology: Every Village Has A Song.

We start with “Juba Juba,” which reminds me of the blues about Partchman Farm (penitentiary) and indeed, Lateef in his excellent liner notes tells us that it is indeed based on a Mississippi prison song with “shackled thythm, sterile harmony.” It begins with a vamp, followed by a flute leading the gospel moans of the Sweet Inspirations to a harmonica blues, and Lawson’s piano eventually comes in, perfectly timed, as the moans turn into a chant: “Freedom.” Lateef’s flute work here shows that it might not have only been Roland Kirk who influenced Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. Suggestions to any choreographer: “Juba Juba” would make a powerful piece.

A flute and moody string quartet are only part of the strength of “Like It Is.” Drummer Roy Brooks’ thunder rolls simultaneous with his time-keeping are striking, and the piece moves into soulful, searching sax choruses. Cecil McBee’s vamp is so woody-sounding; the transfers overall are fantastic, each instrument in clear yet part of the whole, and smooth tape hiss with no destructive trimming of the top frequencies.

“Othelia” is a jook-jump blues, rock’n’roll all right, with the sax and harmonica running hand in hand, then Lucas running off wild; major fun. “Moon Cup” is the most intriguing track, Lateef singing in real or non-mocking Philipine Tagalog (acent on the second syllable), with a Taiwanese koto and bamboo flute adding to the tone of the tone-poem. “Back Home” is densely textured, bass and Burrell’s guitar together evoking a kora, with the leader’s shenai and scratcher making a most interesting combination.

Although Label M’s “Album Classics” series has a corporate identity which is non-tacky— each a wood-framed LP cover on a white art gallery wall with a sliver of bare wood floor, given the beautiful cover here and the tradition Label M is keeping alive, one wishes the pure cover were used, at least in the inner booklet. Also, belaboring an old point, producer Joel Dorn continues to use the plastic Q-box which precludes one from alternative storage, and it feels just plain uncomfortable in the hand. Jewel cases have their own faults, but the grooves by the spine allow you to pull the disc from your shelf; these don’t.

Track Listing: 1. Juba Juba; 2. Like It Is; 3. Othelia; 4. Moon Cup; 5. Back Home; 6. Get Over, Get Off and Get On; 7. Six Miles Next Door; 8. Sun Dog

Personnel: Yusuf Lateef, saxophones, shenai, scratcher, flutes, koto; Hugh Lawson, piano; Cecil McBee, bass; Buddy Lucas, harmonica; Roy Brooks, drums; Kenny Burrell, guitar; Blue Mitchell, trumpet; Bob Cranshaw, Fender bass; Sweet Inspirations, vocals (1, 5); unnamed string quartet (2).

Record Label: Label M

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream

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