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October 1, 2008

Artist Influence: Yusef Lateef

A few different people came to mind when I began thinking about this short essay. Art in its many mediums has been a great opportunity for me to see the world around me in its many colors and moods. With that said, many people have had a deep cultural impact on me, yet it has always been a progressive experience, the creativity and imagination of it opening up to me a little bit more each time. I would like to reflect on something that is still very fresh in my mind. Tonight I saw Yusef Lateef create something. When I came into the hall and sat down I expected to hear something, something I have heard, like a song from “Eastern Sounds,� something ethnic. But Lateef had something else in mind, he sat down and spoke about life and the inevitable death, spoke with word and sound. He opened his performance with a beautiful poem about flowers, the way they please the eye and the nose. What followed was an extremely sensitive exploration of life, at times soaring and other times breaking down. The music ventured into a new realm, where structure is no longer coherent and rather the sounds together describe the experience, floating, crashing down, moving and swaying. The imagery that had began to root itself in my mind had gone by now and the mind was left free to explore whatever I felt like. It was at this point that I noticed the people in the audience, some of whom were getting up out of their seats, carefully collecting their winter clothing, and leaving the hall! Incredible and humorous and yet at the same time such a sharp metaphor for people whose pursuit in life ends so early because they are not patient, or curious, or even interested in exploring themselves any further. They have already perished in a way. Lateef moved to piano and his spirituality began to radiate into the hall. The improvisations began to feel more structured once more, changing color, a brisk moment of immense happiness then dissolving further into the unknown. As the performance came to a close, Lateef once again spoke... spoke about the flowers that are sitting in his vase, giving him a joy or color and pattern, of aroma. Flowers which were once swaying in the wind in a wild field. Flowers that were now drinking up the water from the vase, their life coming to an end. Flowers that were giving joy to Lateef in that final moment.

-Aleksey Polukeyev