Roots Run Deep forms a further installment in the ongoing strand of investigation into the marriage of words and music, which has found a home on the Paris-based Rogue Art label, that also includes Maison Hantee (2009). It's unusual in that though issued under the name of veteran multi instrumentalist Yusef Lateef, the work was actually conceived by filmmaker Nicolas Humbert and engineer Marc Parisotto. The two Frenchmen are credited with composition; having assembled the 34-minute program by matching the American's separately captured instrumental improvisations to recitations of his idiosyncratic stories.
Humbert was in part responsible for the 2005 film Brother Yusef. During filming, he recorded the American each afternoon at his home for a week. Lateef would be playing when they arrived and didn't interrupt his flow as they set up their gear. In the liners, Humbert likens his output to a long prayer or a sonorous river channeling its course. On tenor saxophone, Lateef phrases conversationally in a dry, vibrato-less tone. While on piano, his occasionally discordant chords roll pleasingly on. Indeed, there is both a devotional and elemental feel to the music, like water drawn from an ancient but bottomless well.
The texts derive from a book of Lateef's short stories published in 1976 but with slightly halting readings recorded in 2004. Two renditions of the title track bookend the album, with Lateef's husky soulful singing accompanied by his spare piano. The first three cuts, including an explanation of Lateef's constrained practice regime ("Cream Puff"), and an account of a surreal dream in Harlem inhabited by saxophonist Lester Young ("Where Is Lester"), are self contained. But, from the traditional "Motherless Child" onwards, the music runs across the track boundaries linking the separate pieces into a suite.
Words and music mesh together in a synergy which means that the sum is greater than its pleasant, but unexceptional, parts. Typically high Rogue Art production values ensure that sleeve contains a booklet including stills from the film, all the texts used and information on the background to the project, as well as a potted biography of the American. While creating an intoxicating and dreamlike atmosphere, the work is likely to appeal most to those with an active interest in the symbiosis of word and music.
Roots Run Deep I; Cream Puff; Where Is Lester; Motherless Child; Goodbye; Interior Monologue; Roots Run Deep II.
Yusef Lateef: piano, tenor saxophone, flute, spoken words; Nicolas Humbert: composition, recording; Marc Parisotto: composition, mixing.