Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Arthur Blythe

  • Lenox Avenue Breakdown [Columbia, 1979] A
  • Da-Da [Columbia, 1986] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Lenox Avenue Breakdown [Columbia, 1979]
I prefer this to, say, Blythe's more conventionally "free" Bush Baby (on Adelphi) because--thanks to Jack DeJohnette, Guillermo Franco, and the lilt of Blythe's theme vamps--its passion for popular rhythms enables it to say something about them. The sinuous Latin groove of "Down San Diego Way" wends through three of the four tracks. But while the California opener is unfailingly sunny, the groove runs into two-way traffic on the title tune and suffers further cross-comment on the bluesy "Slidin' Through" before disappearing into "Odessa." Just as Steely Dan's lyrics (and chord changes, I suppose) work against the surface mellowness of the music, so the strength of the groove here is challenged and transformed by solo voices and alien rhythms without ever being defeated, much less exploited for its "accessibility." And if we're interested, all this conflict helps us understand why music like Bush Baby exists. A

Da-Da [Columbia, 1986]
Blythe is a major musician and except for one piece of dinky funk this passes pleasantly enough, but its conceptual confusion epitomizes jazz's commercial impasse. Not only does Blythe play safe every which way, but there's no logic to his successes. You wouldn't figure the synthed-up ballad from Brazilian pop romantic Djavan to generate more atmosphere than the readings from Coltrane and Roland Hanna. Or Kelvyn Bell to provide the album's liveliest moment on the other funk attempt. Or the neat remake of "Odessa" to generate respectable heat up against the wild one on 1979's Lenox Avenue Breakdown, back when there was reason to hope Black Arthur would beat this shit. B