Yusef Lateef creates confounding listening situations. He's a deeply passionate musician who, to this day, explores the gamut of musical experience (check out his recent, nearly two dozen diverse YAL releases). Additionally, he's a thoughtful, erudite thinker who, with emotional conviction, delves into multifaceted musical journeys. But he consistently challenges preconceptions; recording albums that mix jazz, blues, gospel, Eastern, funk, pop, free, classical, meditative and other styles as he sees fit. His music is never dictated by demographic limitations. Still, he's one of jazz's most individual tenor players and one of its finest flautists. But – in deference to no one but his muse – he engages all his faculties of expression: singing, proselytizing, playing percussion and often improvising on unusual instruments like the Indian Shannai, the oboe and exotic flutes.
That brings us to the estimable new compilation, The Man With The Big Front Yard, a premiere sampler of Lateef's far and wide-ranging talents. This value-priced three-disc set combines four of the nearly one dozen albums Lateef made for Atlantic Records between 1967 and 1976 (he returned to the label briefly in the mid-eighties before starting his own YAL Records): his Atlantic debut, The Complete Yusef Lateef (1967), Yusef Lateef's Detroit (1969), Hush 'N' Thunder (1972) and The Doctor Is In . . . Out (1976).
Those familiar with Lateef's excellent Impulse dates, A Flat, G Flat & C (1966) and The Golden Flute (1966) (both deserve reissue), or The Blue Yusef Lateef (1968), pretty much know what to expect on The Complete Yusef Lateef. This one seems more traditionally "jazzed;" perhaps due to its blues-based compositions. Stand outs include the flute chant of the tribal-sounding "Rosalie," the after-hours oboe blues of "In the Evening", the rocking blues of "Kongsberg" (Lateef is glorious on tenor), the lovely flute-based balled of "Stay With Me" and (on alto, I think) "Brother." Hugh Lawson is elegant throughout on piano.
Yusef Lateef's Detroit adds a large cast of Altantic studio musicians and ends up in a late-sixties urban funk bag. Lateef's individuality gets a little lost here, but all eight tracks from this session are worthwhile. Guitarist Eric Gale, electric bassist Chuck Rainey and Bernard Purdie launch Lateef into a not altogether uninteresting groove. Highlights include "Livingston Playground," "Raymond Winchester" and (my all-time favorite Lateef gem), "Russell and Eliot." Long a personal favorite, Detroit begs to be paired with the similar Lateef record Suite 16 (1970), which is unfortunately not included here.
A big leap to 1973 reveals improvements in recorded sound and Lateef becoming more comfortable with elements of funk. Hush 'N' Thunder is quite appropriately titled, mixing a nice combination of quieter elements (meditative / classical) with gospel and pure funk (it's notable that five of the seven tracks here are Kenny Barron compositions). Overall, it's interesting. But it is, perhaps, Lateef's least distinctive set in this collection.
The Doctor Is In . . . Out is noticeably more reliant on '76-style ostinatos and electronic keyboards. But it's also one of Lateef's most consistent – and enjoyable – records in this collection. Highlights include the jungle-funk of "The Improvisors" (with Lateef on flute), Lateef's snake-charming oboe on "Hellbound," Kenny Barron's Headhunter funk-disco of "Mississippi Mud" (with Yusef sounding quite fine on electric sax!). Listen, too, to Lateef's stirringly beautiful interjections on tenor during the odd forties-style vocal of "In a Little Spanish Town."
The Man With The Big Front Yard offers a compelling, densely-textured (but hardly complete) textbook from Yusef Lateef; a great, creative reed player and musical thinker. It also offers plenty of interesting, enjoyable and worthwhile music that jazz listeners should hear.Collective
Collective Danny Moore, Snookie Young, Thad Jones, Leonard Goines, Joseph Wilder: trumpet; Jimmy Owens: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Jack Jeffers: trombone; Jonathan Dorn: tuba; Jimmy Buffington: French horn; Yusef Lateef: flute, finger flute, bamboo flute, pneumatic flute, Shannai, oboe, tenor sax, alto sax, vocal; Hugh Lawson, Ray Bryant: piano; Kenny Barron: piano and electric piano; Al White: organ; Kenneth Barron: keyboards; Dana McCurdy: ARP 2600; Eric Gale, David Spinozza, Cornell Dupree, Keith Loving, Billy Butler: guitar; Eric Gale, David Spinozza, Cornell Dupree, Keith Loving, Billy Butler: guitar; Cecil McBee, Bob Cunningham, Gordon Edwards, Ron Carter, Anthony Jackson: bass; Bill Salter: bass, electric bass; Chuck Rainey; electric bass; Roy Brooks, Bernard Purdie, Kuumba "Tootie" Heath, Al Foster: drums; Sylvia Shemwell: tambourine; Norman Pride, Ray Baretto: conga; Albert "Tootie" Heath, Dom Um Romao: percussion; David Nadien: violin; Gene Orloff, Selwart Clarke, Emanuel Greene, Kermit Moore: strings; Monroe "Bones" Constantino, The J.C. White Singers, Cissy Houston, Judy Clay: vocals; Robert Cunningham: narration.
Tracks:Rosalie; In the Evening; Kongsberg; Stay With Me; See Line Woman; Brother; You're Somewhere Thinking of Me; Bishop School; Livingston Playground; Eastern Market; Belle Isle; Russell and Eliot; Raymond Winchester; Woodward Avenue; That Lucky Old Sun; Come Sunday; The Hump; Opus Pt. 1; Opus Pt. II; This Old Building; Prayer; Sunset; His Eye Is On The Sparrow; Destination Paradise; The Improvisers; Hellbound; Mystique; Mississippi Mud; Mushmouth; Technological Homosapien; Street Musicians; In A Little Spanish Town ('Twas On A Night Like This).