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Lateef continues to explore

In the Garden
In the Garden
By Yusef Lateef, Adam Rudolph and the Go: Organic Orchestra

Meta Records: 2003

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This review first appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of Turbula.

Yusef Lateef is still pushing the edge, still finding ways to reinvent music, still pulling new sounds out of his vast array of wind instruments.

Which is pretty amazing when you consider that Lateef was one of the most experimental of jazzsters in the 1960s – a contemporary of Mingus, Miles and Monk who pushed further than any of them in those heady days.

But even jazz wasn't big enough to hold all Lateef's ideas, and as jazz critic Scott Yanow points out on, Lateef "played 'world music' before it had a name."

Now in his 80s, Lateef has a new two-CD live set with percussionist Adam Rudolph and the Go: Organic Orchestra that shows him at his exploratory best.

For this set, which was recorded over two days last March in Venice Beach, Lateef and Rudolph have assembled more than a dozen woodwind players and a half-dozen percussionists. The resulting ensemble improvisation is swirling and dancing and wondrously alive.

On flute and saxophone and all kinds of exotic wind instruments, Lateef leaps between lush melodies and harsh trills, from bird calls to instrumental chants, fiery jazz passages and harsh dissonance. Rudolph serves as conductor and arranger (as much as one can arrange improvised music), and employs seemingly everyone as a percussionist – even the woodwind players.

Bennie Maupin, whose reed playing was crucial to the sound of Miles Davis' classic late '60s album "Bitches Brew," lends a low-end grounding to "Formative Impulses" on bass clarinet – and also plays other woodwinds throughout.

This is not background music – you have to pay attention to this, to actually listen to it. It's not your typical "world beat" set that mixes in some Latin and African rhythms with some light little melodies. This is improvised art music, and casual fans may not enjoy it. It is at times cacophonous, often veering into the kind of loud, obnoxious "noise" music that causes many outside observers to shake their heads at the fringe of the art world.

But for those who excite to the different, who have a craving to fill their head with smart, new sounds, "In the Garden" is the fix.