Labels like “jazz musician” marginalize musical ingenuity beyond compare. Imagine calling Monet merely a painter, or the guy who paints flowers. It’s the same thing with jazz. Most descriptions marginalize Yusef Lateef as merely a “jazz musician”. Useless labels like this too often disregard a musician’s absolute artistry, especially a force as significant as Yusef Lateef.

Beautiful Flowers aims to have such minimalist mindsets reconsidered. This collection plucks some of the more earthy, soulful items from multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef’s hothouse. What makes this collection especially appealing is that each piece comes from corners where all too few choose to wander; terrain mined by the former Mr. Evans long before it was fashionable to do so.

Here, we evade the post-bop, modal and straight-ahead deliverables so often applauded by others and go right for the heart and soul of what matters – pure invention. Curiously, these sounds sprout forth from an early harvest of Yusef Lateef’s amazing half-century plus career.

Hear now how Lateef waxes poetic in the exotic world groove mood, even ambient environs evaded by all those otherwise attempting to be courted by the jazz cognoscenti.

There’s the mystic take on Ali Jackson’s “Prayer To The East,” the glorious Ravel-like exotica of “Love Dance,” from the father of exotica himself, Les Baxter (check out Yusef’s nod toward Baxter’s work with Yma Sumac) and the fractured waltz Yusef and company deliver on the Hilltoppers’ 1954 hit “Poor Butterfly”.

Then there’s the Asiatic foundation Yusef lays for the stomping “Check Blues” (replete with all the things Yusef can do to manipulate mood with just one flute), the bluesy otherworldliness of the moody “Angel Eyes,” the bang-a-gong, get-it-on psychedelia of (YL’s former employer) Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia” and the soulful romance of “Lover Man”.

Yusef’s own “Endura” is, perhaps the most typical, jazz-like outing heard here. Like one of those jazz jam sessions of long ago, it leads right into Wilbur Harden’s remarkably wild multi-world sound-scape, “Gypsy Arab”. We then end on the most sensual, erotic note of the entire set, with Yusef’s (already) highly distinctive tenor caressing the Showboat theme, “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man”. Ahhh.

Shortly after these recordings, Yusef Lateef began referring to his music as autophysiopsychic (also the name of an excellent 1977 album on CTI); music that comes from one's physical, mental and spiritual self. But it’s always been about that for Yusef Lateef: shaping sounds, building textures and setting moods. You got to wonder how a guy like that has never scored a film.

It hardly matters. Beautiful Flowers evidences music that is way ahead of its time. There’s strength, sweetness, soul and serendipity here, that which transcends mere jazz and is best described by words that the man himself has coined – psychicemotus (mind and emotion) and autophysiopsychic (physical, mental and spiritual).  

Douglas Payne