It’s a shame that Yusef Lateef is relegated to the second tier of jazz musicians, left as an artist who is known more for his work as a sideman. His abilities as a multi-instrumentalist place him a category with Roland Kirk, yet with none of the acclaim. It’s true that on his Atlantic releases Lateef was saddled with inferior material, but his earlier recordings are adventurous, melodic, and quite satisfying. The Golden Flute is a marvelous recording from 1966 that showcases Lateef’s ability to sustain a warm groove through a well-designed program of originals and standards.
“Road Runner” is a slow, funky tune with gutsy improvising that segues into a slow, beautiful treatment of “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” a sultry ballad infused with melancholy beauty. Yet what would be a relatively straightforward session is augmented by Lateef’s interest in using other instruments to create new textures. Despite the title, there are only two tracks featuring Lateef on flute, but both show his interest in foreign scales and how they can enhance the palette available for improvisation in a consistent way. On “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You” the thin, reedy sound of Lateef’s oboe introduces a eerie quality into a straightforward standard. However, the cherry on top is “Head Hunters,” where Lateef sits out and the rhythm section works through a tune you’ll have in your head long after the recording is over.
In the end, Lateef proves himself on The Golden Flute to be an artist of merit, capable of creating a haunting session worthy of comparison to Wayne Shorter’s Blue Note recordings. This is an excellent opportunity to discover an artist whose work as a leader is well worth a listen.
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