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OJC Bop and Beyond: The Cats and Yusef Lateef

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As Craft Recordings continue to mine their vast collection of recordings, their new take on the decades old Original Jazz Classics imprimatur continues to offer up inspired selections worthy of wider recognition. What also sets these reissues apart is superb quality control, with remastering done by Kevin Gray and pristine pressings that in many cases offer the last word in sonic brilliance.

Tommy Flanagan
The Cats
Craft Recordings
1959

Although it was actually recorded in the spring of 1957, The Cats offers a collaborative jam session nominally led by pianist Tommy Flanagan and was not actually released until almost 1960. The reason for the delay was probably due to the fact that saxophonist John Coltrane's Prestige contract did not expire until the end of 1959 when he joined Atlantic Records. In no way does the delay dim the luster of one of the best hard bop jams Prestige ever released.

Becoming somewhat of a standard, Flanagan's "Minor Mishap" opens the session with Coltrane and trumpeter Idrees Sulieman filling out the burly front line. Akin to the style of fellow trumpeter Donald Byrd, Sulieman's bravura speaks in flamboyant tones and why he never attained the popularity commensurate with his considerable talents remains inexplicable. It's also great to hear guitarist Kenny Burrell deliver his single note runs in a manner similar to a horn player.

Flanagan's other originals deliver a nice range of styles. Latin rhythms form the basis for the head of "Eclypso," even as the solos move forth in a swinging style. "Solacium" sports a melody accented by shifting hits, while "Tommy's Time" is simply the blues in its most basic sense. The one number that finds the horns sitting out is the sole standard of the date. "How Long Has This Been Going On" gets a romantic treatment, with Flanagan supported by bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Louis Hayes.

Yusef Lateef
Eastern Sounds
Craft Recordings
1961

The decision to make Yusef Lateef's Eastern Sounds available again via the new OJC series was done no doubt to make some amends for the disaster that surrounded the 2020 Small Batch One Step edition. That title was highly limited and sold out in less than an hour with the website crashing in the process. While the One Step was mastered by Bernie Grundman, this new OJC edition is mastered at Cohearant by Matt Luthans, even as the obi strip claims it to be done by Kevin Gray.

As for the music, rarely did Lateef sound better than he did on this 1961 session that was released on Prestige's Moodsville subsidiary. In tune with the moody atmosphere suggested by the label's namesake, many of the pieces speak in quiet and hushed tone, most notably Lateef's burnished tenor saxophone on "Love Theme from Spartacus." Lateef also uses his full horn arsenal, from the Chinese globular flute on "The Plum Blossom" to the oboe on "Blues for the Orient."

Not to be overshadowed, Lateef's muscular tenor voice can be heard on the more up-tempo numbers such as "Don't Blame Me" and "Ching Miau." Also to be lauded for their unselfish support, Lateef's choice of accompanists plays a major role in the success of this material. Detroit legend Barry Harris taps the attitude and temperament of each unique performance and bassist Ernie Farrow picks up his rabat on a few pieces that come more squarely from a truly Eastern approach.

Associated equipment used for evaluation

VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Soundsmith Aida Mk II cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Arcam SDS 50 SACD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner
Solidsteel S3 Series audio rack

Tracks and Personnel

The Cats

Tracks: Minor Mishap; How Long Has This Been Going On?; Eclypso; Solacium; Tommy's Time.

Personnel: Tommy Flanagan: piano; John Coltrane: tenor sax; Idrees Sulieman: trumpet; Kenny Burrell: guitar; Doug Watkins: bass; Louis Hayes: drums.

Tracks and Personnel

Eastern Sounds

Tracks: The Plum Blossom; Blues for the Orient; Ching Miau; Don't Blame Me; Love Theme from Spartacus; Snafu; Purple Flower; Love Theme from The Robe; The Three Faces of Balal.

Personnel: Yusef Lateef: tenor sax, oboe, flute; Barry Harris: piano; Ernie Farrow: bass; Lex Humphries: drums.

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