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Arthur Blythe: Night Song

Alto saxophonist Blythe is accompanied here by long-time associate Bob Stewart on tuba, Gust Tsillis on marimba and vibes, and four percussionists-including producer Chico Freeman, whose bass clarinet is also featured on one tune-in a program of what Blythe characterizes as “World Music coming from a jazz base.” Included among the nine originals are fascinating versions of Monk’s “We See” and Strayhorn’s “Blood Count,” with Blythe’s rich-tone alto in stunning form on the latter.

This challenging CD finds Blythe doing most of the soloing with Stewart’s ebullient tuba primarily functioning as a walking bass. Some may find the tuba a bit difficult to appreciate in this context-especially on “Cause of It All,” Stewart’s duet with Blythe. Tsillis frequently switches between vibes and marimba on the same piece, occasionally playing both at once. On the tunes that feature the percussionists-all playing hand drums-his marimbas definitely imbue them with a “world music” feeling.

The most intriguing piece is the two-part “It’s Hungry/Fulfillment” with Freeman’s bass clarinet adding another dimension to the bottom end. Introduced by wood flute, it seems to come straight out of the Amazonian rain forest. Equally satisfying are numbers like “Ransom” and “Slanderous,” both alto/percussion pieces co-written with Armenian percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan-“my main hand drummer,” says Blythe, “who brought to the music a kind of cultural nuance that I liked and wanted.” Blythe fans will want to search this CD out, I’m sure; those not familiar with this protean altoist need only give a listen to the cheery “Down San Diego Way” (complete with chanting) to become devotees.

Originally Published