Yusef Lateef: Eastern Sounds

Lateef's meditative 1961 oriental excursion, complete with Chinese globular flute and Indian rabat, is reissued on 180g vinyl


This is one of those jazz albums that was different to the mainstream of its day and remains so to the present. Always interested in the sounds of the East (particularly after he embraced the Muslim faith), Lateef recorded this session intent on spotlighting his beliefs.

The first track, The Plum Blossom, has the leader playing a Chinese globular flute. The instrument, round and made of clay, has a range of just five notes. Lateef produces a blurred, almost buzzy sound on it but still manages to play in a blues-based jazz manner and make the most of his five-note range. In place of a standard bass line Farrow plays the Indian rabat, which has a clucking, percussive sound.

It sounds exotic and Asian. Don’t be put off by the unusual instruments and Eastern modes: if you listen closely it all sounds close to the experiments with Indian music that John Coltrane had begun around this time.

Blues For The Orient is much more in the basic bop and blues bag of the time but still Lateef introduces an Eastern flavour into his flute solo. Barry Harris plays a tasty blues solo with just a few Chinese sounds thrown in. Chinq Miau is apparently the name of a Chinese scale. The tune here of the same name is in 5/4 time, with Lateef on tenor sax noodling on an unvarying C minor bass vamp and sounding much like Coltrane on his one-chord meditations with perhaps fewer notes.

The two film themes (Spartacus and The Robe) are attractive lines for improvisation. Lateef plays them here with strong support from Harris and the rhythm section. You’ve Changed is a bonus track from another Lateef album.

For those wanting straight bop with no unusual flavours, Snafu is recommended. Don’t Blame Me is the only familiar ballad, played by Lateef again on tenor with a particularly attractive piano solo by Harris included. The Three Faces Of Balal closes the set, Lateef back on (conventional) flute. This is a sort of Asian blues with Farrow back on the rabat and Barry Harris and the leader sounding very oriental and bluesy. The album is on 180g vinyl.

The CD version, reviewed here, adds many more tracks.

The Plum Blossom; Blues For The Orient; Chinq Miau; Don’t Blame Me; You’ve Changed; Love Theme From Spartacus; Snafu; Purple Flower; Love Theme From The Robe; The Three Faces Of Balal (44.24)
Lateef (ts, o, f); Barry Harris (p); Ernie Farrow (b, pc); Lex Humphries (d). New Jersey, 5 September 1961.
Waxtime 772308