Billy Harper: Love On The Sudan (1977) Denon Jazz

Selection: Priestess (Harper)

.  .  .


Bily Harper, tenor saxophone; Everett Hollins, trumpet; Mickey Tucker, piano; Gregg Maker, Bass; Malcolm Pinson, drums;  recorded in New York June 27-30, 1977, engineer Jim McCurdy A&R Recording Studio, New York City

Mickey Tucker was the only name I recognised, on the strength of his Muse titles.


Another step into the jazz twilight zone beyond 1970,  Love On The Sudan picks up from where Strata East/Capra Black and Black Saint left off: more fire and brimstone from Harper’s incendiary tenor.

Priestess is a riveting performance, opening with chords in a bold harmonic progression, da da da da daa,  which gives way to one of those rare studio sessions in which everyone is inspired by the mood. It really takes off, an organic ensemble work which ebbs and flow, and eventually subsides in emotional exhaustion. Around eleven minutes immersed in this torrent of music left me emotionally drained, which should leave you too.

The tag “spiritual jazz” can be bewildering to some, but for me it is raw emotional connection between the artists and the listener, open exploratory spontaneous and heart-felt communion of spirits. Not background music, dance music, or lounge, no cocktail-dress singer, or noodling electronica, but works for me.

The other tracks are good too, icing on the cake, especially the title track.

Vinyl: Denon Jazz YX-7568-ND Tokyo first issue, 1977.

Recorded in New York for Denon Jazz, Japan, it looks to be a first release intended for the Japanese market, a Japanese production, recorded in a New York studio by American musicians and engineer, pressed in Japan. I figure an “original pressing”.

Insert included for the benefit of any Japanese readers out there. Spot anything, please comment.

The music is more powerful than the cover suggests. Whilst recorded in America, the cover artwork originates from its Japanese producers. The layout and design just shouts “Seventies”! Small colour artist portraits laid out  on diagonal lines, neat and tidy text, made me think “Lee Ritenour… fusion…Yellowjackets” . You realize the strength of Reid Miles bold sense of design for Blue Note. I might have overlooked this album based on its cover, which is the opposite of the purpose of packaging.

Collector’s Corner

I thought the album title might be victim of autocorrect, did you mean Love On The Sedan? It is however more likely a reference to the Sudan, in north-eastern Africa, capital Khartoum. The name Sudan apparently derives from the Arabic expression bilād al-sūdān (“land of the blacks”), I assume a Harper nod in the direction of cultural roots. Later in his discography he dedicates an album to Somalia, perhaps not worn well.

Just in case anyone was thinking of looking for love on the Sudan, the latest travel advice is against all but essential travel “If you plan to visit Sudan you should consider carefully whether your journey is absolutely necessary“.

Following the recent removal of Sudan’s former President on 11 April 2019 and the establishment of a Transitional Military Council (TMC), “the situation in Khartoum and across Sudan remains tense”.

From the safety of your sofa, however, a licensed copy of the full album – 35 minutes – has been uploaded to YouTube. In six months it has gained around 1500 views, and earned six comments, of which one wishes it was available of CD. Seems not everyone got the memo.

Probably interesting to compare audio quality of a low-res YouTube upload with my own 320k rip via a “fancy turntable“. I’d be mortified if it sounds as good on a phone/PC, but you never know with these things. It sounds jolly good in the flesh.

I found a copy of the track Priestess on YouTube, uploaded a few years ago, it attracted these comments:
That trumpet solo was like staring directly into the sun
Absolute greatness, to the heavens we go
Genuinely beautiful.
Thus is beyond description. ..Love this composition.
I heard Gil Evans’ version about two decades before I ever heard this one. As much as I love the heaviness of Gil’s version, this is pure magic. So much harmonic depth that’s missing from other people’s interpretations.
This man had and still has it “upstairs.” Ageless, also.
Lucky I was to see Harper live in the  70’s   in Antibes festival with Max Roach too at Grenoble.  Master…..  the true power of the sound !
Timeless Billy Harper!
Fred Hersch was here (Santander, Spain) in 2006 and we spent  a couple hours talking. I asked him about the famous piano intro in this theme and he couldn’t remember. Too bad, since it is one of the great  songs of contemporary jazz.
If this doesn’t move you, you’re dead inside…!!
Beautiful composition
Thanks for posting. Was hoping for this to appear one day.
I’m smacking myself because I only found this today
Seems I’m not alone.
Harper’s discography is a chaotic collection of albums: several only in Japan, one for MPS in Germany, a French one, an Italian, and some live cut in Poland and somewhere called “Europe”. Last time I looked  Europe was still there, but don’t count on it for long.  Nothing I saw appeared to be US or UK issues, though I have missed some.
When music writers turn to stock phrases like underappreciated and deserving of greater recognition, here is one who truly warrants it: Billy Harper. Step forward, and be recognised.
Some of these later titles seem to be on CD, some are on sushi (sponsored by Deliveroo Records), but plenty of vinyl to get your teeth into, mmmhmmh, delicious!

5 thoughts on “Billy Harper: Love On The Sudan (1977) Denon Jazz

  1. This is really good indeed, though at the same time I can see why I’ve passed it up at the $40 and up it tends to go for: most of these Harper sessions are fairly predictable and if you have one, you have ’em all (Capra Black excepted).

  2. Listened to these 3 tracks on a summer night with lots of stars and no moon at all.
    Billy Harper is a name I’ve heard of but have somehow never listened to his music.
    Thanks for turning me on to this great new (to me) music.

  3. Listening to Billy Harper Quintet in Europe (Soul Note 001) tonight. I had the opportunity to see Billy Harper a couple of decades ago in North Carolina. Thanks for reminding me of how powerful his music is.

  4. Great write up of a truly underrated artist. I came to him via the classic Capra black, which I found on the strata east issue a few years back, plus I have the excellent Black Saint too. I just picked this up on eBay yesterday on the back of your review – great work as ever !

  5. Billy Harper where my reason for start collecting jazz as I before where more into DJ stuff and really started out in the spiritual jazz. So seams like we where entering the world of jazz from different directions.

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