Yusef Lateef “Live at Ronnie Scott’s” (Gearbox Records)
I thought I had pretty much all of the late, great, Yusef Lateef’s recordings in my collection but when perusing the shelves at my local record shop (a tradition that has made a comeback with the popularity of vinyl) I discovered this gem. It’s a vinyl re-issue of YL’s recording made at Ronnie Scott’s Club on 15th January 1966. A trio of superb European musicians provide the accompaniment: Rick Laird (noted for his work with the Mahivishnu Orchestra) on bass, Bill Eyden on drums and the incomparable Stan Tracey on piano. The album is quite short by CD standards with playing time around 20 minutes per side although this is fairly conventional for an LP. To my mind, three things make this album a standout (i) the performance was captured with a mono Ferrograph reel-to-reel tape recorder (my Dad used to have one) -quite incredibly without the musicians’ knowledge. As a result, the record has a marvelously unselfconscious and realistic feel (ii) YL is at his peak and as well as demonstrating his virtuosity on flute and tenor saxophone, he makes use of two Asian instruments namely the shenai and the xun which provide a lovely exotic texture. Finally (iii) the cover features a gloriously moody black and white photo of Dr. Lateef taken by the brilliant Valerie Wilmer. Notable tracks on the album include the classic Blues for the Orient that showcases Dr. Lateef’s abilities on the oboe-like shenai and Song of Delilah which features some of the most tasteful and sonorous jazz flute ever. On Yusef’s Mood, we are reminded that YL wasn’t restricted to pretty flute tunes but could play tenor sax in an intensely muscular bebop style. Overall this album is a classic milestone; grab it if you can.