Arthur Blythe Trio: Spirits in the Field

Scarred by the hype machine at Columbia Records during his rocky stint at the label in the ’80s, alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe has spent more than a decade downplaying ridiculous expectations. In the late ’90s, he moved from New York back to his native home, San Diego, but his profile has been pretty low for longer than that. What a nice surprise, then, that this live recording puts the focus squarely on his music, finding it as strong, soulful and thrilling as ever. A veteran of groups led by Horace Tapscott, Gil Evans and Jack DeJohnette, a charter member of the Leaders and one-time replacement for Julius Hemphill in the World Saxophone Quartet, Blythe has a rich and storied career, and the music on Spirits in the Field vibrantly reflects it.

The trio’s instrumentation-Bob Stewart on tuba and Cecil Brooks III on drums-revisits Blythe’s excellent 1978 album Bush Baby, which included Stewart and conga player Ahkmed Abdullah. But the approach here is broader. On “Odessa,” Brooks unleashes a hypnotic stream of circular rhythms and provides Blythe with the perfect solo platform, on which his harmonic sophistication, straightforward lyricism and gently soul-streaked tone beautifully coalesce. On a lovely duet reading of the title track, Blythe and Stewart reveal a stunning intuitiveness, caressing and anticipating each other’s lines, and the second-line rhythms and Stewart’s rubbery tuba puffs give the saxophonist a funky foil on “Lennox Avenue Breakdown.”