Yusef Lateef – The Gentle Giant
(Atlantic/Music on Vinyl MOVLP 1160. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
Reissues of Yusef Lateef’s classic LPs by the Music On Vinyl label are coming out with commendable alacrity. Just a few months after The Blue Yusef Lateef from 1976 (link to review below), comes The Gentle Giant, another Atlantic album, this time dating from 1972. Consisting mostly of original compositions by Lateef or his keyboard player Kenny Barron — although there is also an obscure number entitled Hey Jude by some jokers called Lennon and McCartney — The Gentle Giant makes for an instructive comparison with the earlier album. Recorded some four years after The Blue Yusef Lateef there is some notable continuity in the sound, and although most of the backing musicians are different, we are treated to the reappearance of Kermit Moore on cello and the backing vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, led by Cissy Houston.
Thanks to Bill Salter’s electric bass Nubian Lady has a funky R&B Muscle Shoals sound, as if Dusty Springfield might be about to sing about the son of a preacher man. Not so surprising, given that the famed Alabama recording studio was a favourite haunt of many Atlantic’s soul artists — although this Lateef album was actually recorded at Atlantic’s New York premises. Also noteworthy here is composer Kenny Barron’s fatly chiming Fender Rhodes. Yusef Lateef’s contribution is very much in the same groove, as he provides funky fusion flute with a Herbie Mann flavour, although his playing evolves towards a more attenuated, sustained and breathy oriental style, evoking Lateef’s work on Eastern Sounds before returning to the Mann mode
On Lowland Lullabye Lateef sits out and leaves the insistent, importuning flute to Kuumba ‘Tootie’ Heath, née Albert Heath, brother of Jimmy and Percy — a bit of a collector’s item from this distinguished hard bop drummer, accompanied only by Kermit Moore on cello. This skeletal duet is melodious, intriguing and unusual. One is entitled to approach any jazz cover of a Beatles hit with trepidation but Hey Jude begins in a striking, ghostly and spare fashion. It’s a quiet and meditative take on the tune — so quiet that the album cover features the advisory “Do not adjust the playback level on your audio equipment, — readjust your mind.” It soon builds to a more loud and urgent interpretation which closely follows the contours of the song. But the presence of Eric Gale on guitar and Chuck Rainey on bass enrich the mixture and Yusef Lateef’s keening flute worries at the tune while The Sweet Inspirations provide eerie and stirring, almost subliminal, backing vocals. Jimmy Johnson bashes away on the drums in a manner that won’t frighten the horses; or Ringo Starr.
Jungle Plum is indeed a plum with Lateef’s deeply groovy flute contributing to an Isaac Hayes/Quincy Jones feel. His playing is raspy, rousing and virile, accompanied by catchy — if incomprehensible — vocal interjections which, again, are reminiscent of Quincy Jones in his Hikky Burr collaboration with Bill Cosby, which featured similar nonsense lyrics and which was similarly infectious and joyful. It’s another Kenny Barron composition and once more we’re treated to Barron’s adroit, rippling Fender Rhodes lines. Ladzi Cammara plays ‘African percussion’ on this hip, swinging, archetypically 1970s number. The Poor Fishermen, a Lateef composition, is a more sober and melancholy piece, as spare and wistful as a Japanese water colour. Once again it features Kuumba ‘Tootie’ Heath, this time accompanied by Yusef Lateef in a duet which provides a dreamy sense of déjà vu as the two flutes call out to each other in plaintive cry and response, like two birds in mist-shrouded trees.
The Beatles cover version may divide opinion (unless of course you “readjust your mind”) but this is otherwise an album of wall-to-wall excellence, with a lovely seventies feel. Music On Vinyl are to be congratulated on making it available again, with first rate sound quality.
LINK: Review of The Blue Yusef Lateef on Music on Vinyl