Friday, February 22, 2019

Steve Reid - 1977 - Odyssey of The Oblong Square

Steve Reid
Odyssey of The Oblong Square

01. Odyssey Theme
02. Deacon's Son
03. Odyssey Sweet
04. Ginsamseng

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe, Charles Tyler
Bass – David Wertman
Drums – Steve Reid
Percussion – Mohammad Abdullah
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah

Recorded "live" January 1977 New York City on WKCR FM's "Jazz Alternatives" show hosted by Peter Low.

A bold odyssey from Steve Reid – his Odyssey Of The Oblong Square – a jawdropping session recorded in 1977 for a NYC radio show that's as rhythmically feverish and avant garde funky as the legendary drummer's other underground soul jazz classics of the 70s! If anything, the percussion is even more outstanding on Odyssey as it is on the great Nova and Rhythmatism sets for Mustevic – with Reid leading the charge on drums, and most of the other players contributing percussion on one way or another, for an all around frenetic sound, that's still unwaveringly in a groove. Mohammad Abdullah is on congas, ballophone and African percussion, with Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet, Arthur Blythe and Charles Tyler on alto sax – the horns all really kill on this set – and David Wertman keeping an unpredicable acoustic bass groove. Includes 4 long pieces, including the 3 part "Odyssey Sweet", "Odyssey Theme", "Deacon's Son" and "Ginsamseng" – all Reid originals. Amazing! 
Drummer extraordinaire and legend, Vietnam conscientious objector, ex-Black Panther, Reid has played with everyone from James Brown to Sun Ra, Fela Kuti and Miles Davis, friend of John Coltrane, worked at Motown ... Currently working with Kieran Hebden on some of the most radical music being made at present.
Soul Jazz Records are re-releasing this rarest release of deep heavyweight jazz by Steve Reid and The Master Brotherhood, entitled ‘Odyssey of the Oblong Square’ available for the first-time since its original release over thirty years ago on Steve Reid’s own Mustevic Sound record label (where it came out in an edition of 1000 copies) and has been a serious collectors album ever since. There is also a one-off limited-edition vinyl, which, like the original, is limited to 1000 copies worldwide.
Steve Reid is now known worldwide for his radical collaborations with Kieren Hebden on Domino Records. ‘Nova’, ‘Rhythmatism’ and ‘Odyssey of the Oblong Square” are his amazing first albums recorded in the early 1970s – all now serious collector’s albums!
Steve Reid is steeped in musical history and a true pioneer of US deep left-field jazz. He played in Sun Ra’s Arkestra, was a Motown session drummer and backed James Brown at the Apollo! He was a Black Panther, imprisoned during the Vietnam war as a conscientious objector and lived in Africa in the early 1970s. 
Originally released as a self produced album in small quantities from a 1977 radio studio performance, master drummer Steve Reid's loft jazz masterpiece is back in print after a long absence. On this album he is joined by David Wertman on bass, Mohammad Abdullah on percussion, Ahmed Abdullah on trumpet and Arthur Blythe and Charles Tyler on alto saxophone. Rhythm and groove are the primary elements of the music, with the bass, drums and percussion locking together to produce a massive groove that propels the horns ever onward. "Odyssey Theme" fades in to the band already in full flight, with a punchy theme for horns and hand percussion. The lengthy "Deacon's Son" has a probing start for alto and trumpet, with a solid bass and percussion groove. Nice extended saxophone solo spools out over hypnotic percussion. Abdulla takes things to a higher level with a lively trumpet solo, picking the pace up to a high level fast and exciting but still well controlled. "Odyssey Sweet" has a fast Ornette-ish full band improvisation, free-bopping over a slinky groove. "Ginsamseng" begins with a fast, full band improvisation, and M. Abdullah's hand percussion anchoring the searching horns. The horns scale back and Wertman's bass comes to the forefront, deep and strong, acting as a pivot point for the music. Bass, drums and percussion lock into an epic groove that slowly builds in intensity, scaled by hot sounding trumpet. This was taught and exciting music powered by a wall of percussion, and is an excellent example of the kind of "loft jazz" that was being made in the late 1970's. 

Steve Reid - 1976 - Nova

Steve Reid 

01. Nova
02. Lions Of Juda
03. Free Spirits - Unknown
04. Long Time Black
05. Sixth House

Acoustic Bass – Luis Angel Falcon
Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Joe Rigby
Bass  – Richard Williams
Drums – Steve Reid
Piano, Organ – Les Walker
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah

Recorded March 25, 1976 at Studio WE New York City

This album is like a mongoose.  One minute you find yourself thinking that it's cute, the next minute it stands up on its hind legs and you can't help but laugh.  Just when you think you know everything about Nova it hands a cobra a can of whoop-ass and has it for lunch.  The leader, Steve Reid, is a drummer and smashes the hell out of all sorts of things.  In fact, most of the musicians play in a very edgy way.  Some of Nova could be described as Ornette Coleman's The Change of the Century meets Mr. Bungle's Disco Volante.  The album absolutely kicks ass.  Never heard anything like it.  It's certainly one of my absolute favorite Jazz albums.

Damn, this smokes! This kicks off with some uptempo, Ornette-style post-harmony but melodic playing, but about halfway through the first cut, Reid's playing starts getting markedly funkier and, oddly, punkier--by the time you hit the barnstorming "Lions of Juda" and amazing side-ender "Free Spirits - Unknown", there's a very complex vibe going that consists of Abdullah and Rigby doing something like idiomatic free jazz (albeit not in a pat way--very beautifully and with passion) while Walker, Falcon and Reid are in some kind of proto-post-punk trance--Reid's playing in particular begins accentuating the basic rhythm very heavily in a way that was uncommon not only in free jazz but really in most post-dixieland jazz--while it's still complicated and virtuoso, there's a focus on maintaining the main rhythm here that's unusual. But it's not the stomp of Miles' fusion bands or Tony Williams when he's playing with rock guitarists--it's, again, this kind of hi-hat-heavy post-punk, menacing sound. Half this record sounds like This Heat or Pere Ubu with solos, basically. The end of "Free Spirits", in particular, when Reid reels back from a post-bop-ish "cymbals only" beat to something like one of Charles Hayward's insane rhythms that sounds like a drum machine--holy shit. It's cool because it's not intentional but neither is it a "happy accident" or some kind of savant-avant--it's just that one of the logical, but little explored, avenues that free jazz could have gone down. Find this!

This is an astounding record by an artist who has been criminally neglected. The list of those who could make out jazz funky is a short one. Ornette of course springs to mind as do the musicians of the Art Ensemble and their Chicago brethren. Drummer Steve Reid must now be added to that list. From the swaggering thunder of "Lions of Juda," to the gentler songs that close this album, there's nary a misstep. This music is as beautiful and dangerous as a shower of broken glass -- just when you think you've got a song figured out, this clever group of largely unsung musicians heightens the tension and takes things careening off in an unexpected direction. Have no fear though, these men are always nothing if not firmly in control. This is a wonderful document of a long vanished New York scene that was long on every emotion, not just fury. Find this album and buy it.

Steve Reid - 1975 - Rhythmatism

Steve Reid 

01. Kai 12:45
02. Rocks (For Cannonball) 11:04
03. Center Of The Earth 4:20
04. C You Around 12:30
05. One Minute Please

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Bass – David Wertman
Drums – Steve Reid
Piano – Les Walker
Trombone – Michael Keith

Recorded Nov & Dec 1975 at Mustevic Sound Studios, New York.

During the late 1960s and early 70s, jazz innovation mirrored social upheaval by consciously turning away from tradition and embracing the avant-garde. Elaborate collectives such as the Sun Ra Arkestra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and Miles Davis' hard-fusion trailblazers arrived at a wholly modern big band sound through exotic song structures and the use of electric instruments. With their aggressively lyrical and non-linear soloing, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, and Pharaoh Sanders eradicated the time-honored tenets of melody, harmony, and time signature, searching instead for spiritual truth within the music itself. Free jazz, "the new thing," experimental-- whatever it was called, the work of these artists was impassioned, unprecedented, and divisive, pushing music into unexpected realms.

Around that time-- and at the other end of the spectrum-- funk-jazz was more concerned with keeping a groove than breaking new ground. But it was far from static: Eddie Harris and Herbie Hancock used the on-the-one downbeat of James Brown and Sly Stone as the foundation for their sophisticated compositions, while Jimmy McGriff and Grant Green's warm, buttery solos dipped blues and R&B; into jazz's jelly jar. Not as challenging to the ear as free jazz, funk-jazz still hit harder than some of the fusionary misfires that followed and, 20 years later, spawned acid-jazz.

Recently reissued on Soul Jazz, Steve Reid's Rhythmatism steps expertly between funky and free. "Soul jazz" is the perfect moniker for the album, which both reflects the exploratory soloing and marathon track lengths of the free jazz school and digs intently into hard-swinging grooves. Recorded in 1975, Rhythmatism is exactly what its title implies: an examination into the power and pliability of the beat.

Reid takes the helm on drums, and the rest of his acoustic quintet-- bass, piano, sax, and trombone-- exudes a warm, earthy sound, diving into the rhythmic core of their instruments rather than taking them on unfettered flights. Reid's drums propel these tunes against their tempo, building tension through repetition and slight nuance. There are no flashy fills-- instead, he's content to add subtle color with variations in volume and pace.

Album opener "Kai" is a masterpiece, a luscious, essential listen for anyone looking to discern the sanguine, pulsing heart of jazz music. Composer Les Walker's piano spars with Reid's hypnotic stick-and-brush work, but the drummer never flinches as the pianist hopscotches across the keys. Arthur Blythe alternates between flow and fire on alto sax while David Wertman's slippery upright bass provides a round, hearty bottom end. This 12-minute epic isn't a casual listen, but it's so fulfilling that you'll want to grant it your complete attention.

"Rocks (For Cannonball)" is the album's most explosively abstract tune thanks to Walker's meandering keyboard hysterics. Throughout it all, however, Reid stays locked on course. His technique comes to the fore as he pounds his kit against polyrhythmic percussion-- tambourine, shakers, bells-- plied by other band members. Once again, the rhythm section of Reid and Wertman is formidable and unshakable, and throughout this track-- as well as "C You Around"-- Blythe's minor-key sorties on alto are reminiscent of late-era Coltrane. The effect is transporting.

Beginning in medias res, the criminally short "Center of the Earth" is the album's emotional centerpiece. It sounds as if a studio tech pressed "record" at the teary-eyed peak of a climactic jam. With a sudden explosion of baritone sax, trumpet, and guitar-- plus a boxful of percussion toys-- the whole song is one ecstatic, extended crescendo. Music doesn't get any more joyful than this without putting its tongue in its cheek, and that's something a soul master like Reid simply had no reason to do.

Arthur Blythe - 1980 - Illusions

Arthur Blythe

01. Bush Baby 6:28
02. Miss Nancy 7:24
03. Illusions 4:10
04. My Son Ra 5:59
05. Carespin' With Mamie 7:04
06. As Of Yet

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Cello – Abdul Wadud
Double Bass – Fred Hopkins
Drums – Bobby Battle (tracks: A1, A3, B2), Steve McCall (tracks: A2, B1, B3)
Electric Guitar – James Blood Ulmer
Piano – John Hicks
Tuba – Bob Stewart

It is surprising how artistically productive altoist Arthur Blythe was during his period on Columbia. Despite the hype and Columbia's reputation for pressuring artists to play mass-appeal music, Blythe's recordings for that label are inventive and creative. For this, his third Columbia release, Blythe uses two different groups: an "in the tradition" quartet with pianist John Hicks, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall, and a more eccentric unit with guitarist James Blood Ulmer, cellist Abdul Wadud, tuba player Bob Stewart, and drummer Bobby Battle. No matter the setting, the distinctive alto of Blythe is heard in top form on six of his unusual originals. It's recommended.

Not quite as fabulous as Lenox Avenue Breakdown but the music retains much of the same feeling, much due to the presence of both James Blood Ulmer on bad-ass electric guitar and Bob Stewart on that distinctive tuba. Same kind of (mostly) aggressive funky jazz, punctuated by wicked soloing from Blythe and Ulmer. Real nice piano work too from John Hicks. 

Some of the best bang for the buck you're going to find from this time period in jazz. Well worth the exploration.

Arthur Blythe - 1979 - Metamorphosis

Arthur Blythe

01. Duet For Two 17:51
02. Metamorphosis 8:00
03. Shadows 7:40

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Cello – Abdul Wadud
Drums – Steve Reid
Percussion – Muhamad Abdullah
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah
Tuba – Bob Stewart

Recorded in concert at The Brook, 40 W. 17 Street, New York City, February 26, 1977

Altoist Arthur Blythe's first two recordings as a leader, The Grip and Metamorphosis, were recorded at the same concert; all of the two LP's contents are on this single CD. Blythe was already quite distinctive and an impressive improviser at this early stage, a year before he signed with Columbia. His sextet (which consists of trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, cellist Abdul Wadud, tuba player Bob Stewart, drummer Steve Reid and percussionist Muhamad Abdullah) performs seven of Blythe's challenging originals and "Spirits in the Field" while the 18-minute "Duet for Two" is a free collaboration by the leader and Wadud.

There is no real thing to say about this, a great free jazz concert album, everyone plays great, especially Blythe, who sometimes plays melodic themes, but usually makes a completely free game. Not once is he singing with a cello accompaniment in a purely and beautiful way, which evokes Coltrane in particular. 
The room and cello give an interesting color to the whole, although I would prefer to be a little more dominant.

Arthur Blythe - 1979 - Lenox Avenue Breakdown

Arthur Blythe 
Lenox Avenue Breakdown

01. Down San Diego Way 7:44
02. Lenox Avenue Breakdown 13:11
03. Slidin' Through 9:33
04. Odessa 9:30

Alto Saxophone, Composed By – Arthur Blythe
Bass – Cecil McBee
Drums – Jack DeJohnette
Flute – James Newton
Guitar – James "Blood" Ulmer
Percussion – Guillermo Franco
Tuba – Bob Stewart

If you're unfamiliar with the music of "Black Arthur" Blythe (all I knew before hearing this was that he was a BEAST on Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition record), here's the pertinent information: first he was part of The Underground Musicians and Artists Association (the west coast equivalent of Chicago's AACM), then made his recording debut as a sideman for a 1969 Horace Tapscott record, then moved to New York in the mid 70s and spent a number of years playing with Chico Hamilton and Gil Evans. In other words, Blythe has already spent almost a decade working on his craft, and he's absorbed some pretty serious influences along the way. Blythe's alto sax sound has a vibrato you'd expect to hear from a tenor, though there's no mistaking it's an alto when he uses his full range during solos. For this album, he's put together a lovely combination of sounds - besides his alto, there's James Newton on flute, Bob Stewart on tuba, James "Blood" Ulmer on guitar, Cecil McBee on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Guillermo Franco on percussion. The arrangements are unremittingly creative and often unexpected. Everyone gels together extremely well on all four tunes, an impressive feat considering how varied the moods and textures are.

"Down San Diego Way" starts things off on an unassuming note: a tribute to the music and people of the Southwest with feel-good melodies from sax and flute and a 'booty-shakin' groove. Enjoy it while it lasts, because nothing else comes close to being that light and happy again. The title track and "Odessa" are both of a more avant-garde nature ("Odessa" has an almost Middle Eastern feel) and "Slidin' Through" is a fantastic blues riff in 7/4. Heads are easily identified and not all that complicated, but with DeJohnette behind the kit and Franco complimenting him there's no telling where things will go. Ulmer probably makes the music more 'out' then it needs be, but only because his style is so free - when he comps he's producing strange altered chords and never in rhythm or in time with anyone else. It works though, and I heartily endorse the approach. Lenox Avenue Breakdown is a great performance from start to finish, plus where else can you hear tuba, flute and guitar all together in this kind of setting?

Given the urban title of alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe's debut Columbia album, it's quite a shock when he and his red-hot band of collaborators that include James Blood Ulmer on guitar, Bob Stewart on tuba, flutist James Newton, bassist Cecil McBee, and Jack DeJohnette open with the decidedly funky Latin breaks on "Down San Diego Way." It's not a vamp and it's not a misleading intro, the first of four tracks showcases not only the deep versatility of the rhythm section, but Blythe's own gift as both a composer and as a soloist. He states the melody, handing off the harmonics to Ulmer and Newton and then flies high into the face of its chosen changes, allowing the beat to change under him several times before bringing back a theme and letting Ulmer solo. Blythe's grounding in the blues and in modal composition guide him on the title track; he and Newton move through intervallic shifts of chromatic intensity and spatial columnar structures, while Ulmer builds a middle bridge to both ground and fly from. But Blythe is not content here to showcase the extremes. On both "Slidin' Through," his exercise in harmolodic composition, and "Odessa," Blythe provides ample proof of his wisdom as a bandleader, encouraging solo and rhythmic interplay between different groups of musicians such as McBee and Blythe on the former and between himself, Newton and Ulmer on the latter as the rhythm section winds it out in both cases, stretching the narrow envelope into something far more textured and thematically unified -- note the Ornette-meets-noir ambience of "Odessa." This group lays like a band that had been together for years, not the weeklong period it took them to rehearse and create one of Blythe's masterpieces. Over 20 years later, Lenox Avenue Breakdown still sounds new and different and ranks among the three finest albums in his catalog.

You could easily call this album a lost treasure, as it came and went after its 1979 release, not even seeing much light after bandleader Arthur Blythe and his six colleagues reached critical acclaim and success. Blythe counts this loose session as a paean to Harlem, where the assemblage of sounds and rhythms along Lenox Avenue translates into an amalgam not unlike the mix of James "Blood" Ulmer's funk-painted guitar strum backed by the twin engines of drummer Jack DeJohnette and percussionist Guillermo Franco, each of whom makes a sky-crying racket. They do so, surely, in a fit of inspiration, sitting as they are behind a potent frontline: Blythe on alto sax; James Newton on flute; and Bob Stewart on tuba. A tuba on the frontline? Well, in truth, these chaps are all playing the frontline, really. Newton's so revolutionary on the flute that his Rahsaan Roland Kirk-isms make for great rhythm, and his intricate Eric Dolphy-isms cut sharp harmony. Blythe takes his notes seriously as little living things, but his art is in the web work and the melodies. Stewart plays the chameleon, doing tempo a while and then showing slippery riffs galore to the band. Very little in jazz--much less major-label jazz, which this was--around 1979 could match this recording. 

Arthur Blythe - 1979 - In The Tradition

Arthur Blythe
In The Tradition

01. Jitterbug Waltz 4:34
02. In A Sentimental Mood 7:45
03. Break Tune 3:03
04. Caravan 5:22
05. Hip Dripper 4:35
06. Naima 6:44

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Bass – Fred Hopkins
Drums – Steve McCall
Piano – Stanley Cowell

Sometimes the easiest way to get "in" to someone's music is to see how they handle standards. Altoist Arthur Blythe, who -- although he has been associated somewhat with the avant-garde -- does not fit easily into any category, is heard on this 1978 studio session exploring four veteran songs plus two of his originals. The instrumentation of his quartet is conventional but the musicianship is exceptionally high (pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Fred Hopkins, and drummer Steve McCall), and it is quite interesting to hear how they stretch such songs as "In a Sentimental Mood," "Jitterbug Waltz," and "Caravan," making them sound fresh and original.

“I would love for everyone to accept my music, and I would love to make money, but only by keeping my music on the cutting edge,” Here Blythe is working with pianist Stanley Cowell, bassist Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall on drums. One look at the pieces, two by Ellington, one by Fats Waller, one by Coltrane and the rest by Blythe, you can see there is an effort to ameliorate the avant-garde reputation of Blythe. ‘In A Sentimental Mood’ was occasionally played by Paul Gonsalves and Johnny Hodges, Blythe brings a different sensibility to the music.  He does not caress the melody in the way that the Ellingtonians would.  The interpretation is wilder, passionate and more strident. Stanley Cowell also enjoys embellishing ‘Caravan’ before Blythe soars away emotionally into a blizzard of notes.

Black Arthur Blythe - 1978 - Bush Baby

Black Arthur Blythe
Bush Baby

01. Mamie Lee 10:32
02. For Fats 8:43
03. Off The Top 8:20
04. Bush Baby 9:07

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Congas – Ahkmed Abdullah
Tuba – Bob Stewart

Recorded at Blank Tapes Recording Studio, New York City, December 1977.

During this outstanding and challenging recital, altoist Arthur Blythe (who at the time went by the title of "Black Arthur") stretches out on four originals in a sparse trio with Bob Stewart on tuba and Ahkmed Abdullah on conga. Blythe had an original sound from the start and his soulful yet adventurous and intense style is heard in its early prime on what was his second recording session as a leader, cut just before he was surprisingly signed to Columbia.

Arthur Blythe - 1977 - The Grip

Arthur Blythe 
The Grip

01. The Grip
02. Spirits In The Field
03. Sunrise Service
04. Lower Nile
05. As Of Yet
06. My Son Ra

Alto Saxophone – Arthur Blythe
Cello – Abdul Wadud
Drums – Steve Reid
Percussion – Muhammad Abdullah
Trumpet – Ahmed Abdullah
Tuba – Bob Stewart

Recorded live at The Brook, 40 W. 17 Street, New York City, February 26, 1977

For a time in the late '70s and early '80s, it seemed as if jazz's avant-garde was on the verge of a popular breakthrough in the person and music of Arthur Blythe. Blythe was signed by Columbia Records; the label's hype-heavy promotion of the saxophonist almost made him a star. It didn't work; Blythe was too "out" for the masses. Columbia realized that it had made a mistake by expecting too much of the public, and threw its promotional weight behind a more malleable, less threatening young prince by the name of Wynton Marsalis. And the rest is history.

Arthur Blythe grew up in San Diego. He began playing music in school bands at the age of nine. In his teens he studied with a former member of Jimmie Lunceford's sax section, Kirtland Bradford. After moving to Los Angeles in 1960, he began playing with pianist/bandleader Horace Tapscott. In 1961, the two became founding members of the Union of God's Musicians and Artist's Ascension. Blythe recorded under Tapscott's leadership in 1969 and worked regularly with the pianist until 1974.

After moving to New York, Blythe worked and recorded as a sideman with Chico Hamilton (1974-1977) and Gil Evans (1976-1980). He first recorded as a leader in 1977. He was no young lion; Blythe was 37 years old when his first records, The Grip and Metamorphosis, were released on the independent India Navigation label. By then, Blythe was a fully developed, mature artist, a free-influenced player who was also capable of playing older styles in an utterly personal and borderline iconoclastic way. When Blythe played a standard, he imbued it with all that had happened in jazz since it was written, up to and including the free techniques that were integral to his concept; one could hear traces of his predecessors, but as an affectionate remembrance, not an affectation.
Blythe's style varied mostly in the form of his contexts. His earliest recordings feature unusual instrumentation; 1977's Bush Baby featured the saxophonist in a transmogrified version of the sax-bass-drums trio, with Bob Stewart on tuba and Muhammed Abdullah on conga. During his Columbia days, Blythe maintained two separate but equal performing units. One was the so-called "electric band," a free funk-oriented quintet with Stewart, cellist Abdul Wadud, drummer Bobby Battle, and, at various times, electric guitarists James "Blood" Ulmer and Kelvyn Bell. The other was an acoustic jazz quartet that took its name from its first Columbia release: 1979's In the Tradition. The band included bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Steve McCall, and pianist Stanley Cowell. That album gained Blythe a great deal of critical and popular attention. In retrospect, In the Tradition can be seen as a forerunner to the hard bop revival that dominated major-label jazz in the '80s and into the late '90s -- a development that ultimately consigned progressive jazzers like Blythe to the margins.

Blythe made several records for Columbia of varying quality. Lennox Avenue Breakdown and Illusions were very strong; others were not. By 1984's Put Sunshine in It -- a disturbingly inane (and perhaps last-ditch) effort at grabbing a portion of the expanding jazz fusion market -- Blythe's welcome at Columbia had just about worn out. He did rebound a bit with 1987's Basic Blythe, an In the Tradition-type album that was unnecessarily cluttered by a string section. The record was his last for Columbia.

Blythe recorded less frequently in the late '80s and '90s. He and David Murray were a state-of-the-art sax section on one of the most highly praised albums of the '80s, Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition. Blythe also joined Lester Bowie, Chico Freeman, Don Moye, Kirk Lightsey, and Cecil McBee in a band rather presumptuously called the Leaders, which recorded a pair of well-received albums for Black Hawk and Black Saint. Blythe briefly replaced Julius Hemphill in the World Saxophone Quartet in 1990. He recorded for Enja in the '90s; 1991's Hipmotism featured a revamped version of his "electric" group; 1993's Retroflection was an acoustic effort. In 2002, Blythe enlisted marimba player William Tsillis, tuba player Bob Stewart, and drummer Cecil Brooks III, releasing Focus on Savant. Exhale followed on Savant in 2003, and featured pianist John Hicks in addition to tubaist Stewart and drummer Brooks.
Blythe died in Lancaster, California in March 2017 at the age of 76. He possessed one of the most easily recognizable alto sax sounds in jazz, big and round, with a fast, wide vibrato and an aggressive, precise manner of phrasing. His lines were frequently quite baroque and always well-defined; his playing had sometimes been criticized (unfairly, some would say) as being overly ornamental, but he was certainly capable of improvising melodies of great character and originality.