Without delving into the complexity of some of Yusef Lateef's '60s era work, The Sounds of Yusef manages to chart some new territory amid his sea of late-'50s recordings. Many of the songs tilt their head toward the East, both rhythmically and in their instrumentation, but the album as a whole still has its feet firmly planted in the jazz tradition. Nowhere is that more obvious than the album's opener, a flute-led version of "Take the 'A' Train" where Lateef manages to polish the already bright and cheery melodic line of the standard to a new sheen with his exuberant playing. "Playful Flute" shows a heavy African influence, experimenting with more complex rhythmic structures; close listening reveals that it occasionally wanders off track, but Lateef's high flute line draws attention away from any imperfections. In the latter half of the song he employs a technique where he vocalizes and plays the flute at the same time. The result is a deeper, more textured, breathy sound that seems appropriate for his explorations here. Things really get interesting on the album's second side (beginning with track three) where the Asian-influenced composition opens with a shimmering Chinese gong then takes an occasionally fascinating, occasionally grating turn when a number of non-traditional instruments alternate with Lateef's flute line, including 7-Up bottles and the squeaky surface of balloons. The sound is amazingly avant-garde for 1957, making the experiment worth it, even if it is less accessible than the forward-looking jazz numbers that follow: "Buckingham," which allows Lateef to show off on tenor sax, and the contemplative, mellow "Meditation," which shows Lateef's quiet side at its graceful best.
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AllMusic Review by Stacia Proefrock