REVIEW: Yusef Lateef – Eastern Sounds

As I mentioned in an earlier review, Concord Music Group has become a real force in the music industry, and they also have a comprehensive and vibrant website that offers music fans a lot of different looks. One of the best parts is their new Collector’s Corner section, which not only features a lot of legendary recordings but offers those albums in both CD and vinyl formats. The latter is a real treasure chest for the many serious listeners who have helped fuel a comeback for the retro medium.

One of the zillions of jazz and pop albums featured on the site is Eastern Sounds, a landmark recording from the versatile Yusef Lateef (who is still performing over 45 years later). Lateef, who is equally at home with sax, flute, oboe and a few other instruments, recorded this album at a time in his career when he was well-established in mainstream jazz but was ready to go in a new direction.

His long-time fascination with the orient was the driving force behind the development of the album and although it was not his first try at ‘Eastern’ sounds, it was probably the best-known. He recorded it in 1961 with pianist Barry Harris, drummer Lex Humphries, and bassist Ernie Farrow, all talented stars themselves.

The result is a collection of tracks that retain the pure sounds and rich improvisations of modern jazz while influenced by Lateef’s belief in the mysticism of the orient. It’s at the forefront with the opener, “The Plum Blossom,” a softly sweet and exotic piece in which Lateef weaves a spell on both flute and oboe. The same is true of “Blues for the Orient,” although it also allows the keyboard play of Harris to shine through. In a more traditional vein, Lateef reveals some lush and gorgeous sax tones for “Don’t Blame Me,” which was probably my favorite here.

He also offers us a couple of love songs from the movies, which might sound a little off the subject of the album but they actually fit well since both are sort of Eastern – well, Middle Eastern – and Lateef’s treatment of them certainly works. Both the “Love Theme From Spartacus” and the “Love Theme From The Robe” provide some very nice moments with their haunting melodies.

Something a little different, but well worth consideration — and don’t forget it’s one of many now available in vinyl.


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