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Introducing Yusef Lateef

Yusef Lateef (tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, reeds) with bands
rec. 1968-72

WARNER 8122799465 [60:23]



Juba Juba
Back Home
Stay With Me
In The Evening
Woodward Avenue
Eastern Market
Russell and Eliot
Buddy and Lou
Live Humble
A Long Time Ago
Nubian Lady


Yusef Lateef (born William Evans or William Huddleston, I’ve seen both surnames mentioned, in 1925) was a fine, hard-toned and swinging tenor player who grew up in Detroit. He joined Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band in 1949 and was recording as a leader in 1957. A pioneer of Eastern music he was also a sometime scorner of the term "jazz" – he refused to be included in one of the Feather-Gitler Encyclopedias of Jazz but they included him anyway, doubtless to his chagrin. Still, he recanted often enough to announce that his primary language was, after all, jazz.

But he was still a pioneer in his musical horizons and in his choice of instruments. He was an accomplished flautist and took on a battery of Eastern instruments as well – Asian reeds, the argol, shennai and various oboes, as well as percussion instruments. He enlarged the palette bringing a sense of quiet rapture to his music.

This is a compilation album, with minimal notes and discographic information, which takes some of his best recordings from the period 1968-72. They’re derived from albums such as The Blue Yusef Lateef, Yusef Lateef’s Detroit, Suite 16 and the Diverse Yusef Lateef. Fortunately we stop before we get to the period when he was carried away by his excesses and began quasi-symphonic noodling.

Juba, Juba is strongly of its time – blues drenched but with some hokum as well and a rough chorus eventually formulating the word "Freedom" in politicised fashion. Lateef had a fondness for Chicago style harmonica in his band. This and the next track, Back Home, derive from The Blue Yusef Lateef and we can hear how strongly rooted in the tradition is his tenor playing whilst his flute adopts a rather more airy and melodic freedom. He was never as dynamic or unconventional a multi-instrumentalist as, say, Rahssan Roland Kirk but his improvisations did carry with them a remote beauty all their own. Stay with Me for instance is a lovely song, beautifully played. And his oboe-sounding In the Evening, that Leroy Carr standby, is a down home blues that hits home hard.

By the time of Eastern Market – nothing to do with the cod exotica of Albert Ketèlbey – we reach a period of immersion in such affiliations; terrifically powerful brass accompanying but in the end let down by some generic wailing. For all his world music outreach he was, at heart, a blues player – witness the electric guitar solo in Russell and Eliot and the easy lope of Buddy and Lou. He utilised the Hammond organ as he did, less successfully in my book, the vogueish clattering of half digested Eastern percussion. But listen to the righteous old time blowing on Live Humble to appreciate that here was a man versed in the lineage, aware of his heritage, and not afraid to call his children home.

Jonathan Woolf



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