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Concert Series Ablaze Once Again

On April 12th, the UMass/Amherst Magic Triangle Series concluded its 12th season with a special performance by Yusef Lateef in a quintet that included Chicago sax man Von Freeman, pianist Alex Marcelo, drummer Kamal Sabir and bass guitarist Tim Dahl.

This was a once in a lifetime concert to honor Dr. Lateef in his 80th year. His musical life has been rich. Much of it has been spent in the UMass area and his vast contributions have been recognized to the extent of a having resolution authored by a State Senator and read on the floor of the Massachusetts Legislature.

Lateef's musical language is of the world. He, himself, plays a variety of flutes and reed instruments. He dresses as would a tribal leader, with a cap that hugs the top of his head and a long tunic over his trousers. He becomes a portrait of honor for African Americans.

The quintet played mostly titleless compositions written by Lateef. There was only one that he announced called CHAOS, and he subtitled it "a multiplicity of sound". That characteristic pervaded all of his music. Lateef played very little in comparison to the remaining four players. Yet, when he did play, it was in a commanding fashion either on a flute or tenor. He is a structuralist & takes a view of a large musical picture. This is the reason that these five players seemed to be producing orchestral music rather than that of a 5 piece ensemble.

Von Freeman played beautiful solo blues on his tenor. Often Freeman and Lateef would test a harmonic distance as they would perform in unison. At times, they countered each other playfully. Frequently Lateef adopted an atmosphere that was of paradise and Freeman brought the listener back to a real place that was covered in the slow drag of a blues melody. Lateef habitually intercepted the whole tide of the music by playing in between the rhythmic strokes of piano, electric bass and drums. In this way, Dr. Lateef's brilliance shone through. Freeman manifested his bravura in the second set. He was swinging so hard that he practically lifted himself off his seat. It seems as though he had used the first set to warm his way into the texture of the music.

The pianist performed masterfully for such a young musician. Perhaps it is for the reason that he has well assimilated the broadbase teaching of Dr. Lateef. Predominantly Marcello operated with the full span of technical devices, from trills, to chords, to artfully placed single notes. There was one solo space where Marcello elegantly shaped his improvisation such that it became classical in nature: he moved the keys up the scale, up the scale, up the scale and then graded them out by strategically landing notes, then chords. This pattern was repeated several times. The bridge back into the fray was blue, the pace slowed, his fingers moved to the deepest sounding bass keys and then made their way to the treble keys. Marcello was not afraid of dissonance which he drove through in the second set to the point where he took off and seemingly left the planet.

Dahl used his electric bass in an extremely sculptural way. It was surprising how well his digging in on the strings produced a yawning reverberation which developed almost into a drone but which always distinguished itself by lifting out of the total sound and then folding back into it. Dahl pizzed the guitar often like a clicking of the tongue. That sound became a distinct signature.

Sabir sat at a large set of drums. He was active the entire time. He constantly attended to the maintenance of the rhythm. Sabir and Dahl worked well with each other in propelling the breadth of what the music demanded of them. Towards the conclusion of the first set, the drums exploded. Sabir's sticks flew; they moved so fast that they were a blur to my eyes. Then, he galloped through to the cowbells, at which time, the pace slowed and with a solo where one drumstick repeatedly moved from cowbell to snare to tom accented with the pound of the bass drum, he finally broke and stopped to end the piece.

Lateef used electronics in the last work of the concert. The synthesizer seemed to have a mind of its own. It sang, bleeped, hummed, rang like bells. Lateef treated this machine with the same kind of reverence with which he treated every instrument he touched, even his bird whistle.

This concert demonstrated the high standards with which the Magic Triangle Series has continued to bring exciting music to this area. And this concert also speaks of the determination that rests in the series' creators to elevate improvised music to the pedestal on which it deserves to stand.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Lateef / Freeman Quintet
  • Subtitle: The Magic Triangle Series with Lateef/Freeman Quintet
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