ARTHUR BLYTHE-ELABORATIONS, LIGHT BLUE ARTHUR BLYTHE PLAYS THELONIUS MONK AND PUT SUNSHINE IN IT.
Arthur Blythe-Elaborations, Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk and Put Sunshine In It.
Label: BGO Records.
By 1982, alto jazz saxophonist Arthur Blythe was forty-two and had been signed to Columbia since 1978. Since then, he had already released a quartet of albums for his new label. This began with two critically acclaimed albums in the late-seventies, In The Tradition in 1978 and Lenox Avenue Breakdown in 1979. Sadly, neither album found the audience they deserved and Lenox Avenue Breakdown was hailed as “one of the lost masterpieces of modern jazz.” Arthur Blythe was disappointed that his music wasn’t finding the audience it so richly deserved and hoped his luck would change as a new decade dawned
After spending the rest of 1979 and all of 1980 working as a sideman, this allowed Arthur Blythe to get over the commercial failure of Lenox Avenue Breakdown. He returned in 1981 with Illusions, an album of innovative and inventive jazz that featured a composer, bandleader and musician at his creative zenith. Sadly, just like his two previous albums for Columbia,Illusions failed to find an audience. This was another disappointment for Arthur Blythe.
Despite that, Arthur Blythe headed back into the studio with some top session players. The result was Blythe Spirit which was released in 1981 to the same plaudits and praise as its three predecessors. So much so, that many critics regarded it as one of the finest albums of his time at Columbia. Arthur Blythe had hit a rich vein of form musically, and he hoped that this would continue. He also hoped that his music would start to find the audience it deserved.
Buoyed by releasing a quartet of critically acclaimed albums, Arthur Blythe’s thoughts turned to the future, and what would be the seventh album of his career,… Elaborations. It’s one of a trio albums that featured on BGO Records’ recently released and remaster two CD set. It features Elaborations, Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk and Put Sunshine In It which continues Arthur Blythe’s Columbia years.
Arthur Blythe’s recording career only began in 1977, and since then, he had been making up for lost time. Before joining Chico Hamilton’s band in 1975, Arthur Blythe was working part-time as a security guard in New York. Now just seven years later in 1982, and Arthur Blythe was about to record the eighth album of his career. It was an incredible change in fortune, and Arthur Blythe was determined to make the most of every opportunity that came his way.
When Arthur Blythe began work on Elaborations he was at his creative peak, and full of new ideas. Arthur Blythe was constantly looking to reinvent his music and take in new directions. He was truly one of jazz’s pioneers, and the music he recorded at Columbia is a reminder of that. This includes Elaborations.
For Elaborations, Arthur Blythe composed five of the six tracks. This included Elaborations, Metamorphosis, Shadows and The Lower Nile. The only cover version on Elaborations was One Mint Julep which was written by Rudolph Toombs. These six tracks were recorded at CBS Recording Studios, in New York.
When the sessions for Elaborations began at CBS Recording Studios, in New York, Arthur Blythe was joined by co-produced by Jim Fishel. Elaborations would be the third Arthur Blythe album he had co-produced. He came onboard for the recording of Illusions in 1980 and returned for the recording of Blythe Spirit in 1981. The pair worked well together, and they reconvened for the recording of Elaborations. Joining them were some top session musicians.
Arthur Blythe’s band featured a rhythm section of drummer Bobby Battle and bassist Wilber Morris who played on Sister Daisy and guitarist Kelvyn Bell. They were joined by cellist Abdul Bob , Bob Stewart on tuba and Muhammad Abdullah who played congas on Sister Daisy. This talented and experienced band accompanied Arthur Blythe’s alto saxophone on Elaborations. When the sessions were over, the release was scheduled for later in 1982.
Before that, critics had their say on Elaborations, which was Arthur Blythe’s fifth album for Columbia. Critics were won over by Elaborations which was another ambitious and criticality album from one of the few remaining jazz pioneers.
Arthur Blythe stayed true to his musical philosophy on an album that not only referenced hard bop and avant-garde, but R&B. It’s a captivating musical journey from the opening bars of Elaborations, where Arthur Blythe’s blazing saxophone soars powerfully above the arrangement. Later, the rest of the arrangement becomes fluid, meditative and laid-back. Still, Arthur Blythe plays with power and passion, but later leaves space for the solos before his sultry saxophone returns as this masterclass takes shape. This sets the bar high for the rest of Elaborations. Metamorphosis is a reworking of a track from his trio live album Metamorphosis. It’s transformed by the quintet, taking twists and turns as Arthur Blythe unleashes impressive sheets of sound as he plays with speed, power and precision. Sister Daisy is a catchy with the band playing as one while Arthur Blythe’s craggy, jaggy and melodic.
Arthur Blythe’s love of R&B is especially apparent on One Mint Julep where he throws a curveball on this irresistible and memorable track. Very different is the dark, moody and broody Shadows where there’s a sense of foreboding as this cinematic track moves from jazz in the direction of avant-garde. It’s one of then highlights of Elaborations. The Lower Nile closes Elaborations, and features a myriad of Middle Eastern sounds that add to this powerful and poignant track that is rich in imagery. Elaborations was an impressive addition to Arthur Blythe’s CV.
Despite that, and the praise and plaudits Elaborations received, it wasn’t a commercial success upon its release in 1982. By then, Arthur Blythe had built up a loyal fan-base that followed his career with interest. They also bought all of the album he had released since 1977. The problem was, there wasn’t enough of them. Deep down though, forty-three year old Arthur Blythe knew his music had to find a wider audience.
Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk.
For his sixth album for Columbia, Arthur Blythe decided to pay homage to one of the true legends of jazz Thelonious Monk. He had passed away in 1982, and Arthur Blythe wanted to pay his own tribute to one of the greatest jazz musicians on Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk. This was fitting in more ways than one.
Just like Thelonious Monk, many critics and cultural commentators regarded Arthur Blythe as an avant-garde musician rather than a jazz musician. This wasn’t the only similarity between Monk and Arthur Blythe. The two men had signed to Columbia, in the hope that their music would find a wider audience. So far, this hadn’t happened for Arthur Blythe. Maybe Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk would be a game-changer?
Prior to recording Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk, Arthur Blythe had spent some time going through Monk’s compositions. He wanted to find songs that would translate from Monk’s piano to Arthur Blythe’s alto saxophone. Eventually, he settled on We See, Light Blue, Off Minor, Epistrophy which Monk wrote with Kenny Clarke, Coming On The Hudson and Nutty. These songs would become Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk, which Arthur Blythe produced himself.
This time around, there was no sign of Jim Fishel who had co-produced three albums with Arthur Blythe. Instead, Arthur Blythe took charge of production, and guided his band through the six songs on Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk. However, Arthur Blythe’s band featured many familiar faces.
Arthur Blythe’s core band featured the musicians that had featured on Elaborations. The rhythm section of drummer Bobby Battle and guitarist Kelvyn Bell. They were joined by cellist Abdul Wadud, Bob Stewart on tuba and Muhammad Abdullah who played congas. This was a talented, experienced and versatile band who would play their part on what was a fitting homage to Thelonious Monk.
The time that Arthur Blythe had spent choosing the right songs for his homage to Monk had been time well spent. Critics hailed the album a fitting tribute to one of the true legends of jazz. However, this wasn’t a slavish copy of the Monk’s originals. Instead, each composition was given a twist on Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk, which found favour among critics. They hailed it one of Arthur Blythe’s finest moments.
Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk opens with We See, which is one of Monk’s best known and best-loved songs. Jazz meets Latin as Arthur Blythe’s sultry sax twists, turns and soars while a cha-cha rhythm provides the heartbeat to the liquid arrangement. The result is a joyous and melodic jazz standard. Light Blue is a late-night, ruminative ballad that will strike a chord with the newly heartbroken. Off Minor might be one of Monk’s oldest compositions, but this irresistible bop influenced track sure packs a punch and swings.
Off Minor is another of Monk’s older pieces which he penned with drummer Kenny Clarke. In Arthur Blythe’s hands, this melodic track takes on a lively, self-confident, Latin-tinged sound that almost heads in the direction of funk. It also features Monk’s trademark jaunty chromic melody. Coming On The Hudson is a quite beautiful track Monk wrote whilst looking out of a window at the Hudson River. It features loose, laid-back and relaxed performance on what’s one of the album’s highlights. Nutty is an upbeat track where Arthur Blythe’s playing is quick and confident as the shuffle beat ensures the songs swings and then some. In doing so, Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk closes as it began on a high.
After critically acclaimed reviews that had preceded Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk, the album was released by Columbia in 1983. Sadly, it followed in the footsteps of his previous albums, and failed to find the audience it so richly deserved. By then, Arthur Blythe and executives at Columbia knew something had change.
Put Sunshine In It.
By the early eighties, jazz was no longer as possible as it had once been. It had been overtaken by other musical genres, and jazz was heading in the same direction as the blues some fifteen years earlier. Something had to change to save jazz from irrelevancy.
Fortunately, Dr. George Butler Columbia’s head of jazz was a man with a plan. He had been looking at who synths, sequencers, samplers, and drum machines could be used in jazz. This could be the start of a brave new world for the genre. However, moving in this direction could backfire for an artist, and could result in an album that lacked authenticity, tradition and soul. It could also proved to be a musical white elephant, and a blot on an artist’s CV. As a result, there weren’t going to be many people willing to record a jazz album using the new technology. That was until Dr. George Butler persuaded Arthur Blythe to be a guinea pig, and record the most experimental album of his career Put Sunshine In It.
For Put Sunshine In It, Arthur Blythe penned six new tracks for the most experimental album of his career. There must have been a degree of trepidation as he began work on an album that was totally different from anything he had released before. Despite that, the bandleader, composer and alto-saxophonist came up with six new songs including Tumalumah, Put Sunshine In It, Uptown Strut, Silhouette, # 5 and Sentimental Walk (Theme-Diva). These songs would feature on Put Sunshine In It.
A familiar face returned for the recording of Put Sunshine In It, co-producer Jim Fishel. He hadn’t worked on Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Plays Thelonious Monk, which Arthur Blythe produced himself. However, with the addition of the new technology this was uncharted territory for Arthur Blythe. He was joined by his usual band which included a rhythm section of drummer Bobby Battle and bassist Wilber Morris who played on Uptown Strut and guitarist Kelvyn Bell. They were joined by cellist Abdul Wadud, Bob Stewart on tuba and Muhammad Abdullah who played congas on Uptown Strut. This talented and experienced band accompanied Arthur Blythe’s alto saxophone on what was an ambitious and experimental album.
When the recording of Put Sunshine In It took place, tuba player Bob Stewart felt that Arthur Blythe’s heart wasn’t in the album. The band recorded their parts over a backing track that had already been programmed and recorded. This wasn’t the way album Arthur Blythe recorded an album and it wasn’t the album he had wanted to record. Instead, he would’ve rather stuck with the acoustic sound of previous albums. This offered Arthur Blythe the freedom to experiment and reinvent his music on each album. However, Dr. George Butler had persuaded Arthur Blythe to record an album where his band was augmented by a myriad of technology.
It was as if Dr. George Butler was planning to market Arthur Blythe as Columbia’s equivalent or answer David Sanborn. What Dr. George Butler failed to grasp was that Arthur Blythe had no wish to be a David Sanborn clone. He would rather have left this to lesser musicians, lacking in pride and self-worth. However, after releasing six album that hadn’t reached a wider audience, Arthur Blythe delivered the album Columbia wanted.
Deep down, he must have known that if the album wasn’t a success, he could return to recording albums with his acoustic band. That was the music that Arthur Blythe enjoyed making and believed in. Despite the technology, Arthur Blythe’s acoustic band featured on Put Sunshine In It. It was a learning experience for the musicians involved. They were introduced to new technology that would soon play a major part in recording albums. Maybe not for alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe though?
Critics were surprised by the direction that Arthur Blythe’s music had headed in on Put Sunshine In It. Some welcomed the stylistic change, but many critics and commentators recognised that Arthur Blythe’s playing was still of the same high standard on an album that was a marriage of his acoustic band and the latest musical technology. Arthur Blythe had been encouraged to make use of technical tracery and overdubbing, which was a first for him. The result was a jazz album that was obviously recorded in the eighties. That is because of the technology used in the making of the album. It has an unmistakable eighties sound. Having said that, Put Sunshine In It has aged well, unlike much of the music released in the eighties. There’s a reason for that, Arthur Blythe and his band.
Arthur Blythe’s saxophone plays a leading role in the sound and success of Tumalumah. Meanwhile, drummer Bobby Battle puts the eighties’ electronic drums to good effect as Arthur Blythe unleashes a blistering saxophone solo. Put Sunshine In It may not have been the album he wanted to record, but puts his heart and soul into the music. It’s a similar case on Put Sunshine In It, where glistening keyboards provide the backdrop to a sultry saxophone solo that later, soars above the arrangement to this beautiful song. Uptown Strut marries elements of boogie, funk and jazz, which is supplied by Arthur Blythe and his band. Despite this being a stylistic departure for Arthur Blythe and the rest of his band. However, Arthur copes well and his playing is fluid and a mixture of power and control. At the halfway stage, Arthur Blythe was coping well on this adventure in sound.
This continued on Silhouette, which relies heavily upon eighties technology, which many critics found soulless when used in any genre. However, it’s put to good use on Silhouette, where Arthur Blythe’s playing fluid, soulful and sometimes funky on one of the album’s highlights. # 5 relies heavily on drums machines and synths, which add a jazzy backdrop as Arthur Blythe’s alto saxophone soars above what’s the most experimental arrangement on the album. Sentimental Walk (Theme-Diva) closes Put Sunshine In It, and shows that not ever song that was made using eighties technology is soulless. Quite the opposite, as Arthur Blythe’s soulful side shines through. In doing so, it’s a case of keeping the best until last on Put Sunshine In It which was Arthur Blythe’s venture into electronic jazz-funk.
When Put Sunshine In It was released in 1984, the album wasn’t a success. Even some of’s most loyal fans weren’t won over by the album. It had been an idea that was doomed to failure from the very start. The only person who failed to realise this, was Dr. George Butler, who was Columbia’s head of jazz.
In some companies this would’ve cost him his job, but Dr. George Butler held onto his position as Columbia’s head of jazz. He had press-ganged Arthur Blythe into recording an album he didn’t want to record. No longer had Arthur Blythe the same artistic freedom that he had enjoyed when Bruce Landvall left Columbia in 1982. Gone were the days when Arthur Blythe could record ambitious and innovative albums where he could reinvent his music on each album.
It was another two years before Arthur Blythe returned in 1986 with his eighth album for Columbia, Da-Da. While it was well received by critics, it failed to find a wider audience. It was a same case with Arthur Blythe’s Columbia swan-song Basic Blythe in 1987. That was the ninth album that Arthur Blythe had recorded for Columbia in nine years.
The first four albums Arthur Blythe released on Columbia, 1978s In The Tradition, Lenox Avenue Breakdown, Illusions and Blythe Spirit were released to critical acclaim and were released by BGO Records in 2016 as a two CD set. It was the perfect addition to one of the great jazz alto saxophonists. For many people, this was their introduction to Arthur Blythe.
Now a year later, and BGO Records recently release the digitally remastered versions of the next three albums that Arthur Blythe released for Columbia as a two CD set. This set begins with 1982s Elaborations and 1983s Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk, which were both released to critical acclaim. Put Sunshine In It is a much more experimental album due to the use of the technology. However, it’s stood the test of time and shows another side to Arthur Blythe.
Elaborations, Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk and Put Sunshine In It which feature on BGO Records’ two CD set is the perfect accompaniment to the 2016 set that covered the period between 1978 and 1981. These seven album feature the best music that Arthur Blythe released for Columbia. They’re also a reminder of a legendary alto saxophonist at the peak of creative powers.
Sadly, legendary bandleader, composer and alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe passed away earlier this year on March the ’27th’ 2017, aged seventy-six. By then, Arthur Blythe was largely unknown outside of a small coterie of jazz aficionados who appreciated the music of this true jazz great. Hopefully, BGO Records’ recent release of Elaborations, Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk and Put Sunshine In It as a two CD set will introduce the Arthur Blythe’s rich musical heritage to a much wider audience.
Arthur Blythe-Elaborations, Light Blue: Arthur Blythe Plays Thelonious Monk and Put Sunshine In It.
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- Tagged: Arthur Blythe, Blythe Spirit, Bob Stewart, Bobby Battle, Elaborations, Illusions, In the Tradition, Jim Fishel, Kelvyn Bell, Lenox Avenue Breakdown