Friday, April 05, 2013

Yusef Lateef - NYC Jazz Record

Yusef Lateef
Roots Run Deep

Yusef Lateef was 83 years old when filmmakers Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzel spent a week at his home in Western Massachusetts, resulting in the short documentary “Brother Yusef.” They recorded his performances and meditations every day, leaving hours of performance material off of their finished project.  Nine years later, Rogue Art has released a lovingly compiled collection of some of those unused performances from that week, seamlessly blended into a brief, flowing album that finds Lateef both playful and introspective. 

The album is bookended by extended improvisations entitled “Roots Run Deep” that feature a melancholy mix of vocals, piano and flute. Lateef is the only performer on the album and it is his vocals that stand out the most. A strained but honeyed knowingness imbues the entire project with a relaxed wisdom. Four of the seven tracks feature Lateef reading short stories from his 1975 book “Spheres.” Behind the brief but amusing “Cream Puff” Lateef provides a honking tenor for his tale of his practicing limitations and the daily procedures while “Goodbye” remains a largely unadorned reflection on death until the end of the piece pops with descending sounds from his saxophone.  The most resounding piece on the album features a repeated and spacious piano figure used throughout the record as Lateef sings a slow and tragic rendition of the traditional blues standard “Motherless Child.”

The CD package includes a 22-page booklet with remembrances of that week from the filmmakers, a few words from Lateef, a handful of photographs and some sheet music. Now 92 years old, Lateef is still performing, no doubt still wrestling with many of the themes he revisited in 2004 and originally conceived in 1975. It is a beautiful project that is sadly far too short but serves as an intriguing companion to the documentary.

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