Two years ago, the 84-year old jazz pianist, Ahmad Jamal, met Yusef Lateef, who was ten years his senior, for a joint concert in Paris. Lateef entered the heaven of jazz horns a year and a half later – where certainly he met the eclectic trumpeter Miles Davis who is said to have had the greatest respect for the pianist Jamal. What the two oldies Jamal and Lateef had in common was not only a name change and conversion to Islam, but also a penchant for the extraordinary.
Yusef Lateef’s passion for the African, oriental, and Far Eastern music worlds was exceptional. It sustained and molded his jazz, and allowed him to become the cofounder of Ethno Jazz. At the same time, this Doctor of Philosophy blew every wood instrument that came his way. So in addition to tenor and alto sax, he also played the flute and oboe – despite the oboe not typically being used in jazz – as well as numerous self-built instruments inspired by the ingenuity of a variety of African instruments. He refined his flute and oboe technically at American music conservatories, where he received degrees in these disciplines, as well as in philosophy. It should be mentioned that the well-rounded Yusef Lateef also accomplished quite a lot outside of jazz. For example he wasn’t averse to experimenting with New Age music, and impressed contemporaries in the US as well as Europe with compositions for larger ensembles, including the symphony orchestra.
Yusef Lateef’s enormous and unusual versatility found its complement in the nuanced piano playing of Ahmed Jamal, who found his way to the piano at the age of four, and who usually keeps his virtuosity as a concentrated energy reserve in the background. He internalized this tendency during his early years in collaboration with the jazz greats of the time, where, as the man at the piano he was more accompanist than soloist. He later developed his own style of solo playing – limited to the essentials – and with his own trio in the fifties he led the way in jazz piano; and often played with jazz colleagues like Julian Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, and Gil Evans. In the seventies he transformed himself into a prominent fusion musician, and in the eighties he was able to skillfully mix his jazz innovations with pop, which resulted in a composition that made it to number three on the US pop charts. Jazz music critics didn’t like what they saw and punished him by ignoring it. However, Jamal didn’t despair. In fact, just the opposite. His standing in pop as well as among his jazz fans wasn’t seriously affected by these critics.
‘Live at the Olympia’ was also captured on video. Released as a DVD, it is a complete recording of the fourth Jamal live concert in the French capital, and is absolutely worth seeing. After the sweeping drums at the start, there are then piano-dominated, melodic verses, culminating in the appearance of Yusef Lateef armed with tenor sax and flute and accompanied by his own vocals. Beginning with the temporally sprawling song ‘Exatogi’, and driven by changing rhythms, there is an exciting jam session with Lateef alternating between ! tenor sax and flute. It is transformed peacefully into African rhythms and gently worked through meditation transforms, which puts the audience, grounded in secularity, into a spiritual world. Then a final tender submission, which is softly intoned with a song of lament verse by verse to the end, and brought to its conclusion peacefully by the flute. From the depths of a valley of depression, Jamal leads us with the song ‘Marsara’ to ascend melodically, successfully resisting the steady actions of the flute, to fuller sound in lighter spheres. The blues standard ‘Trouble in Mind’ is shaped by Jamal and Lateef together, the latter with the sinister-toned initial verse, rendered with a fragile, but eventually surging and threatening voice. A scenario reminiscent of the last boat ride on the Acheron to Hades. The following song ‘Brother Hold your Light’ then sounds like the brief, but nonetheless welcome song of Hades, the Greek god of death for the departed soul. From this impressively created, but inevitably depressing vale, Jamal, with his side of the quartet, suddenly moves us thankfully from a sense of depression to safe haven and a positive mood, to loud applause from the audience, and two encores.
‘Live at the Olympia’ is the coming together of two quite contrasting musicians, both well on their life path and well-traveled – musicians who are sharing a concert adventure together. It is a concert bathed in mood swings. It was played to a receptive audience, and is something you will never experience again, since one of these two great jazz musicians, Yusef Lateef, has since passed his flute, saxophone, his oboe, and his numerous personally built instruments in finality to Hades.
We listened to this 44.1 kHz 24-bit FLAC download in an acoustically optimized listening room, through Revel Gem2/B15a loudspeakers, driven by a custom-made PWM digital amplifier; with its SPDIF input connected directly to a dedicated audio computer for the downloaded data.
Sampling rate 44.1 kHz: verified
Bit depth 24 bit: okay
The available technical spectrum is fully utilized.