JJ 11/81: Arthur Blythe at the 100 Club, London

Forty years ago Barry McRae rationalised Blythe's lyricism as 'giving the squares a reason to like the avant-garde'. First published in Jazz Journal November 1981

Arthur Blythe in a CBS publicity shot

For its visit to London, Arthur Blythe’s brilliant quintet became a quartet, due to the indisposition of cellist Abdul Wadud. Having recently heard the group at full strength, it would be foolish to say that Wadud was not missed, but fortunately Blythe changed his group to suit the new situation. The emphasis was on solos and, with Bob Stewart, Calvin Bell, Bobby Battle and the leader more than capable in this direction, the outcome was a success.

Blythe continues to give the squares a reason to like the avant-garde, but his relaxed lyricism was no cover-up for empty musical thought. He performed typically favourites like Odessa, Miss Nancy and Bush Baby and shared Misty with Bell’s pleasingly loquacious guitar.

Stewart’s supple tuba work gave the cello-less rhythm section a firm base, while his solos trucked along with the unlikely grace of a cartoon elephant on roller skates. Battle’s sharp attack offset any hint of the ponderous and his surging swing propelled the whole unit at all tempos.

The large crowd responded with tremendous enthusiasm and the unclassifiable Blythe sailed through the evening, by turns flamboyant or subtle, but always with assurance.