Friday, December 27, 2013
A friend helped me out later with the early Savoy sides, and I acquired whatever I could. Any of his albums from his 1956 debut up to the final ones on Impulse (several of which are still not widely available - what a royal drag!) are must haves in my house! The early Savoys ("Jazz Mood", "Jazz for the Thinker"), the live recordings from Pep's (Impulse - with Richard Willimas and Mike Nock) and "Eastern Sounds" (Prestige) are particular favourites, but it seems unfair to point out any of that long stretch of excellent albums also including "Before Dawn" (Verve), "Prayer to the East", "Jazz and the Sounds of Nature", "The Dreamer", "Fabric of Jazz" (all Savoy), "At Cranbrook" (Argo), "The Sounds of Yusef Lateef", "Other Sounds", "Cry! - Tender", "Into Something" (all Prestige), "The Centaur and the Phoenix", "Three Faces of Yusef Lateef" (both Riverside), "The Golden Flute", "Psychicemotus", "1984" (all Impulse) and several others. His tenure at Atlantic started off pretty well, too, with albums such as "The Blue Yusef Lateef", "Yusef Lateet's Detroit" or "The Gentle Giant", which stars the amazing portrait shot by Giuseppe Pino I borrowed to open this post.
Lateef's tenor playing is deeply grounded in the old tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, but also sports a melodic sense that can be traced back to Lester Young. Swing-to-bop giant Don Byas certainly was another influence.
Born William Emanuel Huddleston in Chattanooga, TN (the middle name is sometimes spelt with to m's) in 1920, his family moved to Detroit when Lateef was five. One of his classmates was Milt Jackson, soon he also befriended tenor players Billy Mitchell and Lucky Thompson, both later to be at home in a similarly deeply rooted yet modern playing style.
After starting to play around his hometown, Lateef played with several name bands including Hot Lips Page's and Roy Eldridge's, recorded his first solos on RCA sides of Dizzy Gillespie's great big band of the late forties. Then he returned to Detroit and continued to study, adding flute to his array. He turned into one of jazz' finest flautists, later mastering the oboe and turning that most classical of all wind instruments into a supreme blues instrument. He also started exploring scales and rhythms used in other musical traditions such as Indian or Arab ones, adding further instruments like the argol and the shenai. His bass players were to use the rebab as well, whilst the drummers turned into percussionists, using finger cymbals, gongs etc.
Lateef's early band featured Curtis Fuller on trombone and later Wilbur Harden on trumpet and Hugh Lawson on piano. He also recorded a pair of albums with Bernard McKinney (later known as Kiane Zawadi) on euphonium and the great Detroit piano player Terry Pollard. On "Eastern Sounds" he had Barry Harris on piano - the epitome of pure bebop and one of Detroit's most renowned musicians. In the mid sixties his music - that had long turned into what can be called "world music" - got more adventurous as can be witnessed on the live recordings made by Impulse at Pep's in Philadelphia. He also recorded a fine album with Georges Arvanitas on piano ("Psychicemotus") that was luckily reissued on CD a few years back.
What makes Lateef so special and his music so dear to me is his control of sound, no matter on which of his axes, but most impressive on tenor, where he seems to be fully in charge of each microtone he inserts in his slurs and trills. His sound simply has to be one of the best ever on the instrument. His solos waste no notes, his ballad playing is masterful (check out "Love Is Eternal" on his sole Verve album for a prime example).
I've never gotten around to really explore his career after around 1970 in a thorough way, but he continued to record some fine albums, founded his own YAL label, on which he released - among many others - four albums of encounters with other tenor saxophonists (all titled "Tenors"): Archie Shepp, Von Freeman, René McLean and Ricky Ford. In the mid noughties, he collaborated with french Belmondo Brothers to record a wonderful double album titled "Influnce" (Bee Jazz, 2005). A scaled-down version of that band played a fantastic concert at Cully Jazz Festival the following year that was luckily captured by radio (I missed it and I'm still hating myself for that). I finally managed to catch Lateef live in late 2012 when he appeared at Enjoy Jazz in Ludwigshafen with Archie Shepp. Frankly, the best of the night was a great rhythm section headed by the late Mulgrew Miller and also conaining Reggie Workman and Hamid Drake. Shepp and Lateef were both there, but not bothering to actually play together all that much. Shepp did some pretty lacklustre blues singing (killing Ellington's "Don't Get 'round Much Any More" along the way) and some of his typically raunchy blowing, still with a gorgeous tone but without much of the old bravura and control, while Lateef just played short snippets and threw in some sounds along the way. When he played the theme to "In a Sentimental Mood" on oboe, without adding even a bar of blowing after that, it was still the finest moment of the whole night, earning the largest applause. A weird night, but I'm so glad I have been there.
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Here is a concert from Lateef's well-documented 1971 tour, with a fine band and the leader in fine shape. If you can help identifying any of the tunes, please to leave a comment.
Thanks to the kind person who shared this over on dime, several years back.
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Yusef Lateef Quartet
Bremen (Germany), Lila Eule
October 20, 1971
Yusef Lateef - tenor sax, flute, oboe
Kenny Barron - piano
Bob Cunningham - bass
Albert 'Tootie' Heath - drums
CD1#2 is a duo by Albert Heath (reed flute) & Bob Cunningham
1. See See Rider (Gertrude 'Ma' Rainey-Lena Arrant) 14:02
2. Lowland Lullaby (Albert Heath) 3:20
3. unknown (16:03)
4. unknown (2:09)
5. unknown (18:41)
1. Straighten Up and Fly Right (Nat King Cole-Irving Mills) 13:37
2. Habibi (Kenny Barron) 8:41 [inc, fade-out]
3. unknown [12:55] > Barbados (Charlie Parker) 21:44
4. I'm Getting Sentimental Over You (Ned Washington, George Bassman) 10:38
Sound: A- (low hum, some hiss)
Source: radio broadcast
Lineage: CDR trade > EAC > WAV > TLH > FLAC
:: ubu edits ::
retracked whole set (most were too late)
moved announcements to end of preceeding tracks (CD1#1/2, CD2#1/2)
deleted (mostly) a short bit of radio talk at end of CD2#3
boosted volume +6dB
the original fade out/in around the mark of #5/#6 was a crossfade, hence I decided to have the disk break there
the fade-out at the end of #7 was there already
Additional Lineage: TLH > WAV > Cool Edit > TLH > FLAC (8,asb)