Arthur Blythe

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Krentz Ratings:
Metamorphosis (1977), 7/10
The Grip (1977), 6/10
Bush Baby (1977), 7/10
Lenox Avenue Breakdown (1978), 7/10
In the Tradition (1978), 4/10
Illusions (1980), 5/10
Blythe Spirit (1981), 5.5/10
Elaborations (1982), 5.5/10
Put Sunshine in It (1984), 6/10
Da Da (1986), 5.5/10
Mudfoot (1986), 5.5/10
Out Here Like This (1987), 5.5/10
Basic Blythe (1987), 5.5/10
Metamorphosis (1990), 5.5/10
Hipmotism (1991), 5.5/10
Retroflection (1993), 5/10
Calling Card (1993), 5/10
Synergy (1996), 5.5/10
Night Song (1996), 5.5/10
Today's Blues (1997), 5.5/10
Focus (2002), 5.5/10
Exhale (2002), 5/10

Los Angeles-based alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe (1940), who played with pianist Horace Tapscott in 1960, relocated to New York in 1974, developing his baroque style at the instrument in the combos of Chico Hamilton (1975-77), Gil Evans (1976-78), Lester Bowie (1978), Jack DeJohnette (1979), McCoy Tyner (1979), etc. The live Metamorphosis (february 1977) and The Grip (same concert) by a sextet with trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, cellist Abdul Wadud, tuba player Bob Stewart, drummer Steve Reid and percussionist Muhamad Abdullah, featured adventurous and spirited pieces such as Metamorphosis, Spirits in the Field the 18-minute Duet for Two (with Wadud) and (on the latter) the twelve-minute As of Yet that introduced a creative improviser, a proficient composer and a subtle arranger (specializing in unusual combination of instruments). The elliptic compositions of Bush Baby (december 1977) were arranged for a trio with Bob Stewart on tuba and Muhamed Abdullah on conga. Lenox Avenue Breakdown (1978) transposed the same idea into a more orthodox setting (electric guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer, flutist James Newton, tuba player Bob Stewart, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette) with the 13-minute Lenox Avenue Breakdown, the free-form Slidin' Through and the haunting Odessa. At the same time Blythe exlored old classics with an acoustic quartet comprising pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall on In The Tradition (october 1978). The transitional Illusions (1980) announced the split to come. Blythe became a strange hybrid of avantgarde improviser and traditionalist, alternating between an electric funk-jazz quintet (electric guitarist Kelvyn Bell, Stewart, Wadud, drummer Bobby Battle), documented on Blythe Spirit (1981) and Elaborations (1982), and the acoustic hard-bop quartet In The Tradition (Cowell, McCall, bassist Fred Hopkins).

The experiment of the period was Put Sunshine In It (1984), that featured Todd Cochran on synthesizer and drum-machine. The electronic sounds percolated into Da Da (1986), but disappeared from Basic Blythe (1987), in a quartet with pianist John Hicks, bassist Anthony Cox and drummer Bobby Battle, containing Autumn In New York, and from the live Retroflection (june 1993) and Calling Card (june 1993) by a similar piano-based quartet. All his many lives relied on a set of core compositions that he recycled in different formats.

Blythe also joined the Leaders, a supergroup formed by tenor saxophonist Chico Freeman with trumpeter Lester Bowie, pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Don Moye that recorded Mudfoot (1986) and Out Here Like This (1987). He also played on the World Saxophone Quartet's Metamorphosis (april 1990).

After the last electric album, Hipmotism (march 1991), Blythe struggled to find his ideal acoustic format, moving from the sax-cello-drums trio of Synergy (july 1996) to the cello-sax duets of Today's Blues (august 1997) to Night Song (august 1996) with tuba and four percussionists to Focus (april 2002) with marimba player William Tsillis and tuba player Bob Stewart. The latter became the name of the band that released Exhale (october 2002).

Blythe died in March 2017.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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