Monday, November 24, 2008

Billy Harper - Black Saint (Black Saint, 1975)

I was thrilled when emusic started offering a large chunk of the Black Saint/Soul Note catalog for downloading, because that label is often hard to find and recorded so much wonderful music. This was the first Black Saint LP, and it remains one of their finest. The music is strong and potent spiritual jazz that draws on the legacy of John Coltrane and then expands upon it with well thought out improvisations and very impressive playing. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper is one of the unsung heroes of the past forty years of jazz and here he plays brilliantly, supported by Virgil Jones on trumpet, Joe Bonner on piano, David Friesen on bass and Malcolm Pinson on drums. Harper and the band play three long improvised compositions, each brilliant and never flagging in either intensity or innovation. "Dance, Eternal Spirits, Dance" opens the album sounding like one of the strong modal tracks that McCoy Tyner used to record for Blue Note and Milestone in the late '60's and early 70's. "Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart" unleashed one of Harper's finest solos, full of fire and spirit, but always respectful and never trying to dominate the music. This is a wonderful album, and it deserves wider knowledge than it already has. It honors the history of the music while pushing the boundaries of what jazz is and the unlimited potential of what it can become.
Black Saint -

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