Jazz Mood: Yusef Lateef


One of the wisest, smartest moves that anybody can make when they want to get ahead with something is to get themselves a mentor. Dr Yusef Lateef passed away, aged 93, in December 2013. Amongst the many tributes and accolades, I noted one from a mentee who praised Dr Lateef as the person who he took inspiration from. It was none less than the great Sonny Rollins. Recommendations and endorsements probably don’t come any higher in this neck of the woods!

Yusef Lateef was on my list of artists to write about when I began to think about downwithit last summer. My dilemma has centred on where to start. My own introduction was via The Blue Lateef, an extraordinary set from the great man’s Atlantic years which began in the late 1960’s. I’ve already touched on that set here and I’ll be back again in due course.

Another entry point may have been to look at the series of sets from the early to mid 1960’s that came out on Impulse I’ll be going there later too.

Eastern Sounds is another magisterial performance that I’ll be back to. But as those of you who are still with me will already know, there’s only one real start- back at the start-line itself.

Jazz Mood was Yusef Lateef’s first set as a leader. Recorded in April 1957 with fellow Detroit musicians it features Curtis Fuller on trombone. In an amazing 39 minutes, Yusef offers a route map for his future development.

Metaphor opens matters and Yusef plays an opening phrase on what sounds like bag pipe drones (I assume to be the arghul referred to on the sleeve). The tune has a vaguely unsettling feel about it: perhaps the sort of thing that could accompany the scene setting opening of a film noir set in the Middle East. The scenario currently in my head would definitely be filmed in monochrome. The track features YL on flute. It follows (from YouTube). What do you think?

To play, click or touch the arrow.

Yusef’s Mood starts out by harking back to the 1940’s. The tune really swings but has a rhythm and blues edge which carries us into a fine bluesy tenor solo and some wonderful trombone from Curtis Fuller. There’s great interplay between the two soloists and, once again YouTube allows you to take a listen.

To play, click or touch the arrow.

There’s another particularly enjoyable version from the 1974 set Ten Years Hence, which was recorded live at Keystone Corner in San Francisco.

The Beginning is cool and enticing but is a little in the shadow of the other four tracks.

Morning is an exquisite performance featuring beautiful full-toned tenor saxophone played with great expression. I’m unsure whether the performer is reflecting on a long night or is contemplating a new morning full of expectation. I’ve not linked to it here but there are plenty of renditions currently on YouTube. The set closes with Blues In Space, which has a quirky sort of head (by which I mean tune). It’s 1957 and the composer is looking forward over the horizon to New York City in the 60’s perhaps? In 2014 that part sounds very dated but then an extended tenor saxophone solo saves matters. The piano is not massively to the fore on this set but Hugh Lawson is given the space for a fine short solo here.

So there we have it. Yusef Lateef’s first album as a leader. I have to admit that my copy is neither original vinyl, nor latter day CD, but one of 6 Classic Albums packaged together and available from your favourite online retailer for £14.99. Please forgive my transgression- but some sets are too good not to write about.

Dr Yusef Lateef’s informative website is here. There are links to obituaries where you can read about YL. While you are there, don’t miss the link to a couple of YL’s own essays, which offer a great insight into the ‘Gentle Giant’s’ own thoughts.

Deadline met, train to catch, post now, see you soon, downwithit

The Band: Yusef Lateef (Tenor saxophone, flute, arghul, scraper); Curtis Fuller (trombone, tambourine); Louis Hayes (drums); Hugh Lawson(piano); Doug Watkins (finger cymbals, percussion). Recorded: 9 April 1957. Produced: Ozzie Cadena. Released as Savoy MG 12103.