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The Three Faces of YUSEF LATEEF

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Yusef Lateef (tenor sax – Side 1, #1 and 3; Side 2, #4, oboe – Side 1, #2; Side 2, #1 and flute – side 2, #2 and 3)  Ron Carter (cello except on Side 1, #3 and Side 2, #4)  Hugh Lawson (piano, celeste on Side 1, #4)  Herman Wright (bass)  Lex Humphries (drums, tympany on Side 1, #4) 

Reeves Sound Studios, NYC; May 9, 1960

1. Goin’ Home (4:59) (Fisher – Dvorak)
2. I’m Just a Lucky So and So (4:33) (David – Ellington)
3. Quarantine (6:56) (Abe Woodley)
4. From Within (4:07) (Yusef Lateef)
1. Salt Water Blues (6:44) (Yusef Lateef)
2. Lateef Minor (4:56) (Joe Zawinul)
3. Adoration (4:28) (Yuef Lateef)
4. Ma-He’s Makin’ Eyes at Me (5:50) (Clare – Conrad)

   There is a perfectly natural tendency to mistrust the jazz musician who plays too many instruments, to mutter something about “jack of all trades, master of none.”  But for all rules (and proverbs) there must be at least one exception.  On this album, which marks the first appearance of YUSEF LATEEF on Riverside, you can hear this exception clearly stated in forthright and brilliant terms.
   To hear Yusef playing tenor sax, oboe and flute within the span of a single album-worth of time is an arresting experience.  There is, on the one hand, a consistency of approach that leaves no doubt that you are listening to a man with firmly-conceived, logical and unified jazz conceptions.  On the other hand, it is also apparent that Lateef is not performing on three different instruments merely for effect. He brings a separate and fully-realized point of view to each of them, based on a solid grasp of the scope and limitations of each.  It is this quality – the similarity and the differences in his handling of the three horns – that is being underlined in the title of the LP.  There are three distinct “faces” here, but all of them are aspects of Lateef.
   Perhaps the most immediately impressive quality in all of Yusef’s playing is a pervasive feeling of strength.  Not raw, uncontrolled power, but rather a deep, richly sensitive, almost tangible fullness and vigor.  His flute sound is unlike anyone else’s firm and forceful and about as far removed as is possible from the fragile pippins that so often pass for jazz flute playing.  As an oboist he again takes an instrument generally thought of as delicate and almost never thought of for jazz,  and obtains from it a thoroughly earthy and blues-filled sound and feeling (as demonstrated here on an Ellington standard, I’m Just a Lucky So and So, and o his own Salt Water Blues).  In neither case, though, is he in any way distorting or forcing the instrument.  The fact is that Lateef is well-schooled on both (his oboe teacher was Ronald Odemark, first oboe and assistant conductor with the Detroit Symphony), and he is quite simply capable of taking both flute and oboe past what are considered their ‘normal’ limitations.  It would seem to be primarily a matter of understanding the basic nature of jazz well enough to recognized that it is not sufficient merely to play jazz-type figures on an ‘odd’ instrument,  that you need to approach the particular horn with a definite concept of what specific and valid jazz purpose it can serve.  Of course, in addition to such a concept and a firm knowledge of the instrument, it helps greatly to have – as Lateef does – overwhelming vitality and a rather incredibly adaptable embouchure.
   Strength is also very much in evidence in Yusef’s tenor style, which (although it is less obviously ‘different’ than his oboe and flute work) I find the most exciting element in the album.  
Actually, the full-voiced, deep, and intensely swinging saxophone sound heard here (on the Goin’ Home theme from Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, on the unexpected oldie, Ma . . ., and on the fervent blues titled Quarantine) is a good deal more on the ‘hard’ side than much of his past playing.  To understand this point calls for a quick look at Yusef’s personal history:
   Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee (in October, 1920), he was raised in Detroit, now generally recognized as a long-time hotbed of modern jazz talent.  He was playing tenor professionally by 1939, first with local bands and the, by the middle and late ‘40s, with such as Lucky Millender, Roy Eldridge, and Dizzy Gillespie.  He became a Moslem in 1949 and the following year returned to Detroit to work and study and eventually, in 1955, to form his own group.  He became a leading jazz figure in that city; among other jobs, he played for more than three years at Klein’s Show Bar.  Late in 1959, he moved on to New York, where he has led his own group at The Half-Note and had a long engagement as a featured guest star with Charlie Mingus at the Showplace.
   Undoubtedly his conversion was a key point.  When Yusef embraced the Moslem religion, it was a whole-hearted move, involving his entire way of life and therefore, of course, his music.  More than perhaps any other jazzman-convert, he made use of Eastern themes, feeling, and even instrumentation in his playing. More recently, however, he has moved on from this musical phase – still as deeply religious and interested in “developing spiritually and being able to reflect that development through music,” he no longer feels a need for the direct use of Oriental material, emphasizing instead a more straightforwardly swinging approach.  
   The Eastern feeling remains most in evidence on two haunting Lateef originals written for flute: Adoration and From Within (on the latter, pianist Hugh Lawson switches to celeste – contributing a wonderfully effective solo; and drummer Lex Humphries is on tympany).  By way of contrast, there is a third, quite spritely flute number, Lateef Minor 7th, written by pianist-composer Joe Zawinul (currently Dinah Washington’s accompanist).
   Yusef’s backing on the album is supplied by a group of young and highly promising musicians.  On most numbers, a unique ensemble blend is achieved by the rich and supple cello of Ron Carter, best known up to now as an able young bassist, who has worked with Thelonious Monk and with Randy Weston.  The rhythm section includes two Detroiters, who came to New York with Lateef in ’59: the firm, big-toned Herman Wright on bass; and hard-swinging Hugh Lawson on piano.  Drummer Lex Humphries has been quickly building a reputation through his stints with Dizzy Gillespie and the Art Farmer-Benny Golson “jazztet.”

   Other outstanding recent Riverside jazz includes –
Them Dirty Blues: CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Quintet (RLP 12-322; also Stereo RLP 1170)
The CANNONBALL ADDERLEY Quintet in San Francisco (RLP 12-311; also Stereo RLP 1157)
THELONIOUS MONK at The Blackhawk (RLP 12-323; also Stereo RLP 1171)
Portrait in Jazz: BILL EVANS Trio (RLP 12-315; also Stereo RLP 1162)
This Here Is BOBBY TIMMONS (RLP 12-317; also Stereo RLP 1164)
(The present recording is also available in Stereophonic form on RLP 1176)


Produced and notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Cover and back-liner photos by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
Recording Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering

235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York

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