Yusef Lateef


Friday, September 5, 2014
Yusef Lateef – “Plum Blossom” from Eastern Sounds (1961, Prestige/Moodsville)


This is the first opportunity I’ve had to post about jazz thus far, and it’s maybe funny that it comes on the heels of a straightedge hardcore post, but that’s the beauty of the Shuffler, I suppose. I’m excited that Yusef Lateef is the first jazz artist I’m writing about, because he’s a little bit off the beaten path. I like a lot of weird in my jazz (as time goes on, you’ll see posts on Thelonious MonkSun RaRahsaan Roland Kirk,Ornette Coleman and others), and Lateef delivers in spades.

The album title doesn’t leave a lot of mystery as to the album’s concept: Eastern Sounds are what Lateef is after here, and “Plum Blossom” delivers a sound that combines Eastern music and Western jazz in a way that is fresh, not at all Putamayo, and still leaves room for future innovators like Rudresh Mahanthappa and others to try their hand at the same idea decades later. More than that, most importantly, it works — the “weird” here is just the instrumentation, the innovation, but the tune itself stands strong on its own.

“Plum Blossom” has kind of a laid back, wistful plunkiness, beginning as it does with Lateef improvising on a xun (a Chinese globular flute that is worth exploring on the google if you have a minute — the sound is almost electronic) over a single note that is played over and over by Alice Coltrane’s half brother Ernie Farrow on the Indian rabab while Barry Harris plays fairly standard jazz chords and Lex Humphries (who played with Sun Ra and Coltrane as well) waxes super chill on a tambourine. Eventually the xun gives way to a straight ahead blues improvisation by Harris, before everything is stripped away and we hear the rabab trucking along in rhythm. Lateef comes back in on the xun, and the whole thing is just so natural and pleasant sounding that you just want to sip some delicious lemonade and hope it never ends.

But it does, it always ends. Lateef died in December of last year.