Saturday, 28 July 2007

Yusef Lateef...

This review is pretty flat, a CD by an artist I hugely admire but one with several flaws, most notably the fact that I couldn't help comparing it to far better recordings by Lateef. If there are any talking points here then you'd probably go to my observations about Lateef's influence on Coltrane, and the cheeky comparison of English rhythm sections to the Albatross.

There's a lot to be said for this type of jazz archeology though, making performances considered 'lost' available for the first time. Just what distinguishes them from unauthorised boot-legs, I've no idea.

Eric Dolphy's much quoted line 'When you hear music, after it's over, it's gone, in the air. You can never capture it again' obviously didn't take into account people with portable recording equipment!!

Live In London

Introduction; I’ll Remember April; Imagination; Yusef’s Mood; New Year Blues; Ask The Post; Trouble In Mind; Number Seven.

Yusef Lateef (ts, f, ob); Stan Tracey (p); Rick Laird (b); Bill Eyden (d).
Recorded 31/12/65.

Recorded on New Year’s Eve 1965 at Ronnie Scott’s Frith Street club, this recording forms part of a “Live In London” series which features many of the big names to have passed through the city back in the swinging ‘60s. Journalist and jazz enthusiast Les Tompkins was the man with the ferrous tape on this occasion, and his masters have scrubbed up extremely well.

Whilst English rhythm sections have sometimes been compared to the albatross, Lateef here has no hesitation in generously featuring Scott’s celebrated house band. Tracey in particular shows a ready willingness to explore. Recordings of visiting names with pick-up groups have always provided a fascinating glimpse of the creative process in action, as tensions and incompatibilities require skillful negotiation for the public performance to succeed. Black Lion Records have released many similar recordings over the years, but the London connection to this series should make it especially interesting to Jazz Review’s domestic readership.

The recording opens with a brief announcement by Scott, in which he manages to deliver at least two side-splitting jokes. Lateef then launches into ‘I’ll Remember April’ on flute. Whilst not in the same league as the more fully realised studio version recorded some four years earlier on ‘Into Something’, it does however show a different facet of Lateef’s artistry - that of itinerant musician at large. The programme elsewhere consists of a mixture of standards and generic blues originals, reflecting the need for familiar reference points to bring this temporary band together.

The leader’s customary grace is evident on every piece, and despite some rough edges in places, the band don’t let him down. On tenor his muscular tone and elliptical phrasing recall Rollins, whilst his flute displays deep roots in Eastern culture.

Lateef rarely seems to get the credit he deserves as an innovator, having picked up Eastern modes and exotic double-reed instruments long before Coltrane popularised the soprano saxophone, or the ‘New Thing’ embraced non-Western sounds. ‘Trouble In Mind’, taken on oboe, is a good illustration of the more spiritual facet to his playing, whilst the lengthy blues suite ‘Number Seven’ (compare it to the one on ‘Live At Pep’s’ if you wish) illustrates his formidable qualities as a passionate and slow-burning improviser. Not just a rewarding listen, but a slice of UK jazz history too!

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, February 2005)

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