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The Centaur and the Phoenix: the big sound of YUSEF LATEEF

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Clark Terry (tp) Rihcard Williams (tp) Curtis Fuller (tb) Yusef Lateef (ts,oboe,fl,argol) Tate Houston (brs) Josea Taylor (basson) Joe Zawil (p) Ben Tucker (b) Lex Humphries (drs)   

NYC; October 4 & 6, 1960


  1. Revelation (5:53) (Kenneth Barron)

  2. Apathy (5:20) (Yusef Lateef)

  3. Ev’ry Day (I Fall in Love) (6:55) (Kahal – Fain/ arr. Barron)


  1. The Centaur and the Phoenix (5:33) (Charles Mills)

  2. Iqbal (4:48) (Yusef Lateef)

  3. Summer song (5:22) (Charles Mills)

  4. The Philanthropist (3:56) (Yusef Lateef)

   New album by YUSEF LATEEF is invariably greeted with considerable interest and expectation, for his abundant creativity and his emphasis on unusual instruments and sounds have established an aura of excitement and surprise around his work. But this LP can be considered extra-surprising, even for a Lateef album, as Yusef’s fertile musical imagination continues to move into intrigingly new and different areas.

   On this occasion, Yusef has chosen to underline the big, virile sound of his own playing with the big, full sound of a nine-pieces group – the first time he has recorded with more than a small combo. As you might suspect, the lineup is not exactly conventional, with Lateef himself being heard on four instruments and the other horns including an amazingly funky bassoon!

   And the rich, compelling orchestral colorings created by this group stem from scores by a trio of writers that includes, in addition to Lateef himself, two fresh and striking talents, each – for quite dissimilar reasons – making a first appearance on the jazz scene. Kenny Barron is a most promising 17-year-old Philadelphian; his own hard-swinging Revelation and his soft ballad arrangement of Every Day I Fall in Love are the first recorded examples of his work. Charles Mills, who contributed the remarkable The Centauer and the Phoenix and the lyric Summer Song, is a highly regarded contemporary compose who has become attracted to jazz largely through a growing interest in the music of Lateef (to whom the title piece of this album is dedicated “with friendship and admiration”).

   “This album is just the way I wanted it at this time,” Yusef noted after the recording was completed, with the emphasis being on “at this time,” in recognition of his changing moods and explorative nature. But this LP, which draws on both the swinging and the Indian-Eastern aspects of this many-faced musician, does seem to bear out Lateef’s feeling that he has “put into it everything I have acquired so far.”

   And Yusef has clearly acquired much musical skill and knowledge during an involvement with jazz that dates back to his ‘teens. Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in October of 1920, he was raised in Detroit during the years when that city was just about to make itself known as a prolific breeding-ground for modern jazz talent. He first played alto sax, but in 1939, while still in high school, switched to tenor, which has remained his main instrument. Until 1946 he played locally; then Detroit tenorman Lucky Thompson recommeded him to bandleader Lucky Millinder. After leaving Lillinder, he remained in New York where during the late ‘40s he worked with Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie and won the recognition and respect of the top figures of the “bop” movement. But, feeling strongly that he still had much to learn, Yusef returned to his musical studies in Detroit. In 1955, after five years at Wayne University and the Deal School of Music he resumed an active jazz role, forming his own group and working steadily and successful in Detroit for the next three years.

   It was during that three –years period that he was attracted to the various “odd” instruments for which he is known today. In 1957, having played flute for a year, Lateef began studying under Ronald Odemark, first oboist of the Detroit Symphony. (A most difficult instrument, the oboe is quite rare in jazz, but Yusef had a characteristically direct, simple reason for taking it up: “It is unusual and I liked the sound.”)

   Lateef’s command of the oboe is best demonstrated here on Iqbal, a selection that (like many others he has recorded) reflects his deep and sincere belief in the Moslem religion. Iqbal is his daughter’s name, a Moslem word meaning “floueshing and eminent.” (At the start of the number, Yusef can be heard briefly on the argol, a short, wooden, double-reed instrument from India similar to those used by snake-charmers.)

   The unusually rich and full-toned sound of Yusef’s flute is featured throughout Summer Song, and there is an opportunity for direct comparison of his flute and tenor styles on the mightily swinging (despite its name) Apathy. In addition, the latter tune offers individual choruses and some question-and-answer “fours” by the two talented trumpet men in this group, Richard Williams and Clark Terry (who, to be precise, takes all his solos on flugelhorn). Apathy, and Iqbal, also include uniquely blues-filled bassoon solos by Josea Taylor.

   Lateef’s deep-throated tenor work is heard on the surging Revelation and on the moody “tone poem” he calls The Philanthrophist. It is probably most excitingly displayed throughout what is certainly the most arresting piece on this album, Charles Mills’ The Centaur and the Phoenix. Mills, who has studied under Aaron Copeland and Roger Sessions, has based this work on themes from his “Crazy Horse Symphony” (written in 1957 and performed in ’58 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra) and from the “Charlie Parker Symphony,” a current work-in-progress. Mills explains its title as a “mythological variant of these two heroes: Centaur (half-horse, half-man) for the immortal “Bird”. Untilizing a wide range of material, from contrapuntal effects to blues progressions, it reaches a startling climax in which Yusef drives through and over the full ensemble.

   The big sound that surrounds Lateef on this album is created by a group of musicians hand-picked for the dual ability to swing and to handle difficult parts. Among them are Clark Terry, whose horn has been featured with Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones; and trombonist Curtis Fuller, who worked with Yusef in Detroit in the mid-‘50s and had since played with Yusef Lester Young, Gil Evans, Gillespie, the Farmer-Golson “Jazztet” and Quincy Jones. Lex Humphries has also worked with Lateef, Gillespie and the “Jazztet”, and with Detroiter Donald Byrd. Trumpeter Richard Williams is a promising newcomer who has been with Yusef’s quintet and is presently working towards a master’s degree in music. Josea Taylor has recently moved to New York after teaching woodwinds at a North Carolina college. Austrian-born Joe Zawinul, a young pianist who bears watching, is currently Dinah Washington’s accompanist. (Yusef gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Billy Frazier in reharsing and conducting this material.)

   Lateef’s first Riverside album was –

The Three Faces of YUSEF LATEEF (RLP 12-325 and Stereo RLP 1176)

   He is also featured on –

That’s Right!: NAT ADDERLEY and The Big Sax Section (RLP 330 and Stereo RLP 9330)

   (The present recording is also available in Stereophonic form on RLP 9337)




Cover design by KEN DEARDOFF

Back-liner photos by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK

Recording Engineer: RAY FOWLER

Recorded at Plaza Sound Studios

Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe.


235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.

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