R.I.P.: Arthur Blythe

Interview that offers some overview.

Chronological recommendations:

I’ve heard the Tapscott sides, but I think Blythe first sounds like himself on the Julius Hemphill album Coon Bid’Ness (1975)

One reason Blythe was ear to my heart was that he very frequently used Bob Stewart on tuba instead of a bass player. (Tuba is the only instrument I played back in schooldays.) So my sentimental favorite is Bush Baby (Adelphi, 1978 — vinyl or online only), where the extended duets by Blythe and Stewart sound particularly harmonious and friendly to me.

The consensus masterpiece of course is Lenox Avenue Breakdown (1979). I happened to grab it during the thick of my big-city jazz flowering and it was obvious: a session where everybody was in sync and on fire and Could. Not. Miss. I heard Blythe as a natural outgrowth of Ornette and still think the title track and “Odessa” in particular should have been at least semipopular hits. But it was not to be and jazz has never returned to the same certain path it once followed.

A consolidation of all his modes, Illusions (1980) completes my Arthur Blythe starter set. There’s lots more (love the Jack DeJohnette material — like The Leaders material). I was horrified to realize I had never picked up the live set Retroflection (Enja) and will correct that toot sweet.


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