‘Nocturne’/Nocturnes, Yusef Lateef (Suite 16, Atlantic Records, 1970 & Nocturnes, Atlantic, 1989)

Nocturne, Suite 16 (Atlantic Records, 1970)

Flute, Flute [Pneumatic Bamboo], Flute [Bamboo], Saxophone [Tenor], Saxophone [Soprano], Oboe, Bells, Tambourine – Yusef Lateef with Chuck Rainey, Bass; Jimmy Johnson, Drums; Neal Boyar, Vibraphone.

Nocturnes, Atlantic, 1989 

Personnel: Yusef Lateef: Flute, Alto Flute, Tenor Sax, Piano, Christopher Salvo: Clarinet, Hugh Schick: Flugelhorn, Patrick Tucker: French Horn

'Nocturne' (1970) from Suite 16 - wistful turning to bombast, almost military-style, just after 1’13” funk/electronic elements. Nocturnes (1989) an album that has been celebrated as mood music, but I find disturbing in the best possible way. This music offers a sense of depth, of spatial dimensions where sounds indicate both what is heard and suggested, creating a nimbus-effect transposed into music, an impression of a deep background. This captures the essential, defining quality of jazz (even though Lateef rejected that term, see below) of longing, reaching out, desire distilled, at times. 

Remembering Yusef Lateef (born Chattanooga, TN 10/09/20, died Shutesbury, MA 12/23/13). Music for the new year.

Here is the AllMusic review, I found nothing else on the album, the author isn’t named:

'Yusef Lateef has always sought to extend the boundaries of musical expression. Continuing his quest for new vistas in jazz, Yusef Lateef's 1989 release Nocturnes is a subtle, even brooding, musical project that uses sound colors and stark musical landscapes to create, above all else, a sense of darkness and nighttime. This music is largely programmatic. In fact, Nocturnes is probably best summed up as a modern tone poem. The writing is gloomy and ominous, dissonant and angular. Yet, each track retains a distinctly gentle and placid disposition. Trumpeter Hugh Schick plays with a rich, full bodied and legato approach throughout and Lateef's own flute playing is often quite heartrending as he soliloquizes over his own piano and keyboard playing.

Nocturnes is a perfect CD for late nights or dreary afternoons, Lateef and crew challenge our ears to enter into a world that is at once desolate and austere, yet pretty and serene. In short, this is mood music at its best. Highlights include 'Compassion Duration' and 'Warm Intensity.'

To mark the passing of Yusef Lateef, the New York radio station WKCR played his music for 33 hours non-stop from the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2014.   

JazzWax: What do you remember most about your childhood?

Yusef Lateef: My passion for nature. I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1920. Two years later my family moved to Lorain, Ohio. Then in 1925 we moved again, to Detroit, where my father took a job in a bedspring factory. I was an only child, so I spent many hours by myself. Growing up alone made me more sensitive and more aware of nature—butterflies, the sky and trees. I was actually entertained by flowers and grasshoppers and ants. They drew my attention. At the time I didn’t’ realize that those things were the phenomenon of creation. I still marvel at nature.

Interview with Marc Myers, JazzWax 2008


Interview with NPR, John Rogers: 

'(Lateef) was guided by a desire to develop his own brand of "autophysiopsychic" music — he disdained the term "jazz," and saw his own art guided by physical, mental and spiritual realms — as well as his devout Muslim faith.'

Yusef Lateef and Adam Rudolph interview, LA Weekly, 12/18/03, by Greg Burk

'Rudolph: Low sounds carry more overtones, so high is embedded in low, in a way that low is not embedded in high. Like a drum especially, you strike it and there are very complex overtones — that’s what gives it its character and its richness. So inside of that are all the other tones. But it’s also tension and release — so you control the low, and that controls the motion. Low to high is tension, and high to low is release. In Middle Eastern music they have a concept called usala, and that’s how they structure their rhythm. Also, Yusef and I were talking about Michio Kaku, the theoretical physicist — he wrote this book Hyperspace. He postulated 11 dimensions that could exist, and as you get into the higher dimensions, the laws of physics become simpler and simpler. So rather than thinking about a stylistic milieu, we look at music in the higher dimensions — it becomes simpler and simpler.

What has made you evolve?

Lateef: It was my nature.

Who were examples to you?

Lateef: Uptown from where I lived as a youth was Lucky Thompson. He wanted a saxophone, but he couldn’t afford one. So he got a broomstick and carved notches on it, and practiced on the broomstick until he got a saxophone. John Coltrane, every time he’d come to Detroit, we would get together and study. And he was always looking for what he didn’t know. He always asked me, “What have you been following?” And I asked him the same question. He said, “I found the secondary dominants” [the fifth degree above a note other than the tonic], which were in Europe years ago, but no one had used them in improvisational music, and John told me he knew his secondary dominants backwards.

What moved you away from the blues and toward avant-garde and classical music?

Lateef: I think the basis of it is the moments that I spent sitting in the library in Detroit, and taking classes at Wayne State University in classical music, finding out what it involves — Mozart, Beethoven, and the Russian composers, Borodin et cetera. And I realized that to be a musician, there’s much territory to look into. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies — I’d like to write nine, too. I’ve written one symphony, I’ve got eight more to go.

Both of you have spent considerable time in Africa. How has that changed your attitude?

Lateef: It’s more compassionate. You see somebody who needs help, you got to help.

What attracted you to Islam?

Lateef: There was a mosque in Chicago, and I went and got some literature. It said through prayer and deeds one’s natural tendencies are directed to the proper channels. The only virtue is in your actions — that’s what Islam teaches. And it spoke about respect of parents and of neighbors, and I already believed those things from my Christian upbringing. I joined Dizzy Gillespie in Chicago, and when we got to New York, a mosque was there, near Art Blakey’s house. I started going to the meetings, and I said, “I better try this.” I thought I ought to change my name, and the reason I did was because Lateef means gentle and amiable, and Yusef means Joseph after the prophet Joseph. And Abdul Lateef means a servant of the gentle and amiable, a servant of God — that’s one of God’s attributes, gentle and amiable. And I said, “That’s something for me to try to live up to.”

Is nature an inspiration? 

Lateef: Nature is a prototype for painters, for musicians, for writers. We didn’t create that, it’s beyond us. We observe it, and I think when we reflect on nature, it gives us ideas how to synthesize whatever we’re doing. It’s a great teacher. It’s reflections of the higher power. And we’re part of nature ourselves. This is something I believe: When we observe something that’s beautiful, it’s not the thing that creates the beauty. The force that created that beauty is really what’s attracting us. So that means a thing of beauty comes in pairs. There’s the thing itself, and there’s the thing that makes it.

Rudolph: That’s why I feel music is about something greater than music itself. Music is just a medium through which something is passing. It’s all ultimately in service of something else.'