downwithit was partly inspired by Nile Rodgers. In his autobiography he writes that Chic started each project with something that he calls DHM (deep hidden meaning) to the fore. I’m not sure that there’s a unifying sense of DHM about Yusef Lateef’s Impulse album, 1984 but the title does have a hidden meaning which has nothing to do with George Orwell or the year 1984. If you stick with me all will be revealed at the end of the last paragraph.
Previous posts have confirmed that I regard Yusef Lateef as being amongst the great jazz woodwind players. I had been searching for this set on CD for some time and finally cornered it during a visit to New York last year at Frederick Cohen’s Jazz Record Center (which itself takes a bit of tracking down). Mr Cohen is the author of the first comprehensive Blue Note collectors discography ‘Blue Note Records: A Guide For Identifying Original Pressings. His premises are hidden away in an office building on W26th Street but are well worth seeking out. He a nice guy who was happy to have a chat and pose for a quick photograph. I departed happy and with my Japanese release of 1984, which cost me a very reasonable $18.99(£13.34 at today’s exchange rate)
Pic shows: Mr Fred Cohen of Jazz Record Center, NYC
Anyway, on to the album. It is something of a mixed bag and, in my opinion, would have benefitted immeasurably by some disciplined editorial oversight. Of course part of the thing about Impulse was that the artists had an unprecedented degree of control over their recordings and chances were taken. The title track, billed as ‘…a mythical trip to the future’ on the sleeve, is evidence of this. The notes explain that Yusef Lateef is playing within a 12 tone system of his own creation and that he is employing a range of instruments of an exotic and self-fashioned type. However, his experimentalism on this track doesn’t do anything for me and, to my ears, almost spoils a largely excellent set with its sonic meanderings which include squeaks and sub-vocalisations (which make reappearances albeit in a more restrained context on some of his later work on Atlantic). Oh well, I’m glad the future hasn’t turned out like this yet!
Try Love brings the listener gently back into the mainstream. Yusef plays oboe on this one and New Zealand pianist Mike Nock”s work is a delight, although some expressive drumming reminds us that this is 1966 and everything is up for grabs.
Soul Sister is a sophisticated up-town sort of a track on which Yusuf takes takes us strutting out led by his tenor saxophone. At 3.06 it is all too brief an excursion. You can have a listen courtesy of YouTube:-
To play either click on or touch the arrow.
Mike Nock’s Love Waltz closes the first side of the long playing record and it is a vehicle for his piano, with Yusef Lateef, generously giving the sideman an opportunity here and sitting out on this one.
The next track is yet another lapse in editorial judgement. One Little Indian actually opened side 2 of the original LP. It will be more familiar to UK audiences as the bewhiskered Michael Finnegan but in the USA it goes by the other title and it has attracted criticism because of racially offensive lyrics in several of its incarnations. We can be confident that Yusef Lateef was not seeking to be provocative here- but, in my view, it is a filler track at very best and probably should not have been included on the album release.
Happily, Listen to The Wind is another rather more listenable track starting with an ECMish introduction before Yusef shows he can play hard bop choruses as well as anybody. The tune then changes tempo again for a piano solo, with a reflective saxophone piece to close matters.
Duke Ellington’s Warm Fire is a delicious late-night track, played deightfully and conventionally before Gee! Sam Gee takes us back into restrained tone poem territory, with Lateef resisting temptations to take us on a sonic excursion.
The Greatest Story Ever Told is the theme tune from a then current sword, sandals and Bible epic of the same name. In 1961 Lateef had offered themes from Spartacus and The Robe on Eastern Sounds, an excellent set which I’ll take a look at here at some stage. Although this is not the greatest tune that Yusef ever recorded, it’s OK, with some pleasant flute playing.
Although I was delighted to get hold of 1984 and it is an album which has some strong playing on it, it is uneven. I rate it as an album for the completest collector rather than an essential purchase and two of the tracks disappoint massively. The sound quality is excellent throughout and although the cover does not say where 1984 was recorded, Rudy Van Gelder’s presence gives a clue- although this may be a false one, as reliable sources say that the set was recorded at Pep’s Lounge in Philadelphia, although the recording didn’t take place before a live audience. Cover photos are by Charles Taylor who I also mentioned in more detail here.
Yusef Lateef plays a King tenor sax on this set (doubtless the silver model with the under slung neck pictured on the cover). However, I have also seen another more recent picture showing his instruments featuring no less than six Selmer tenors (the Selmer Mark vi was the instrument favoured as first choice by most of the greatest players- and not so great as I owned one myself for many years).
The Band etc: Yusef Lateef (Tenor saxophone, flute, diverse wind instruments); Reggie Workman (double bass); James Black (drums); Mike Nock(piano). Recorded: 24 February 1965. Produced: Bob Thiele. Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover: Robert Flynn / Viceroy. Cover photography: Charles Stewart. Sleeve Notes: Bob Hammer. Released as Impulse AS84.
So what about the hidden meaning of the title? Well it is actually quite straightforward. This is Impulse release number 84. A is letter 1 of the alphabet and S is letter number 19- 11984- delete the first 1 and you get 1984. Simple really. Give yourself a round of applause if you stayed with things so far, and play the wonderful Soul Sister (again).