Four great albums from reedman Arthur Blythe – all together in one collection! First up is Lenox Avenue Breakdown – a stunning Columbia Records debut from Blythe! At the time of the date, Blythe had already spent years working in the jazz undergrounds on both coasts – developing a searing sound on alto sax that's perfect for the focused structure of this album – almost a tone poem of sorts, offering up a portrait of the Harlem scene that was a key part of Arthur's life at the time. The sounds are sharp, but also have a sense of energy that really holds them together – guiding the players through long readings of well-penned tunes by Blythe that are filled with loads of energy and life! Players include James Newton on flute, James Blood Ulmer on guitar, Bob Stewart on tuba, Cecil McBee on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Guillermo Franco on percussion – and titles include "Odessa", "Slidin Through", "Down San Diego Way", and "Lenox Avenue Breakdown". In The Tradition is a gem – as the set represents the modern musician taking on a host of older jazz currents, while carving things out with his own special sort of soul! Half the tunes are familiar favorites, the other half originals – and Blythe moves far past his avant roots, to showcase his deep understanding of so many different shades of jazz – blowing alto beautifully throughout, in a very hip quartet that features Stanley Cowell on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Steve McCall on drums! Titles include great takes on "Naima", "Jitterbug Waltz", "Caravan", and "In A Sentimental Mood" – plus the originals "Break Tune" and "Hip Dipper". Illusions is maybe the boldest of Arthur Blythe's albums for Columbia Records – as the set bristles with newly creative energy right from the start, and provides a great showcase for some of the criss-crossings of styles and rhythms that were taking place on the New York scene at the time! The lineup alone announces something special – a cool combination of James Blood Ulmer on guitar, John Hicks on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, Abdul Wadud on cello, Bob Stewart on tuba, and Steve McCall on drums – working together in some slight variations at times, often with these angular edges that are perfectly sharpened by Arthur's amazing work on alto sax. The music's never too free, but quite outside for a major label at the time – balanced out so that it's never overindulgent at all. Titles include "Bush Baby", "Miss Nancy", "My Son Ra", and "Carespin With Mamie". Blythe Spirit is a set that showcases the never-ending growth and imagination of reedman Arthur Blythe during this fruitful period of his career – and his ability to effortlessly blend together different elements in his music – especially sides of the New York loft jazz scene, and the Chicago-based AACM! The tunes are beautiful – mostly originals, and showing a richer spirituality than even a year before – while still working in that compellingly rhythmic mode that Arthur was hitting during these years – in a lineup that features Blythe on alto, Abdul Wadud on cello, Kelvyn Bell on guitar, Steve McCall and Bobby Battle
on drums, John Hicks on piano, Amina Claudine Myers on organ, and Fred Hopkins on bass. The mix of electric and acoustic elements is fantastic – very fresh, even all these many years later – and titles include "Misty", "Spirits In The Field", "Just A Closer Walk With Thee", "Reverence", and "Contemplation".