One of the musicians I must have seen playing most often in the late 1980s and early 1990s must be alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe – although I never saw him with one of his own groups.
Instead I heard Blythe several times with Roots, the “In The Tradition” band of Sam Rivers, Chico Freeman, Arthur Blythe, Nathan Davis, Don Pullen, Santi Debriano and Idris Muhamad which did the european festival circuit for a while. And I remember at least three concerts by The Leaders, the band that consisted of Don Cherry (later replaced by Lester Bowie), Blythe, Chico Freeman again, Don Pullen (later replaced by Kirk Lightsey), Cecil McBee and Don Moye.
A few years earlier Blythe had almost become a star when Columbia Records gave him a contract hoping that Arthur Blythe’s intelligent and deeply emotional handling of the whole alto sax history with his way of playing that is ornamental, biting and hard hitting all at the same time might have some sort of mass appeal – which it unfortunately did not have.
Over his long career Blythe has again and again worked (and still does) with tuba player Bob Stewart, with which Blythe also recorded (together with percussionist Ahkmed Abdullah) the LP Bush Baby in 1977, one of my favorite Blythe LPs:
Blythe’s abstractions and Stewarts funky, earthy bass lines always make a great combination. So I was really amazed to find on one of Otto Flückiger’s old VHS cassettes more than fifty minutes of a concert the Arthur Blythe Quartet played at the Jazzfestival Berlin on November 1st, 1980. This is one of the classic Blythe groups from that time featuring besides Blythe and Stewart cellist Abdul Wadud and drummer Bobby Battle. They are playing:
The last track is unfortunately not complete on the source tape, so I had to fade out during the drum solo (it just goes on for a few seconds). After that band also played Down San Diego Way and Break Tune. Maybe they will turn up on another VHS tape one day? Until then:
P.S.: And now a personal ad, directed to those living in Berlin: On tuesday October 23rd 2012 I’ll be spinning the wax at the Club Monarch, after the reading performance by the Verbrecherversammlung at Skalitzerstrasse 134. So if you are in the mood for some jump, jazz and jive,, I’ll be glad to see you!