LJC wandering off the beated track again, with modal power-tenor Billy Harper.
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Billy Harper, tenor saxophone; Everett Hollins, trumpet; Armen Donelian, piano; Wayne Dockery, bass; Malcolm Pinson , drums; recorded March 3 & 4, 1979 at Tonstudio Zuckerfabrik, Stuttgart, Germany.
With us in his late Seventies, Harper is still firing up his stern, hard-as-nails sound tenor. His quintet performed at the end of last year in the NY Zincjazz Boss Tenors Series.
Trying To Make Heaven is a 1979 quintet recording of the incendiary tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, in an extended, hard-blowing session, strong on Harper’s signature tune Love On The Sudan. The Sudan track is a reprise of a 1977 Harper album of that same title, Love On The Sudan (Denon), but on which the pick is different track, Priestess. If you are following this, well done.
For the geographically-challenged, the Sudan is an area of Northern Eastern Africa, just below Egypt, bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad, Congo and Uganda. I’m sure Sudan is lovely, but for the benefit of any British readers “From 5 November to 2 December 2020, travelling away from home, including internationally, is restricted from England except in limited circumstances, such as for work or for education. It seems Love is not among the exceptions.
Steadfast against the shifting tide of popular jazz taste, Harper developed his own musical vision, not following fashion other than being a natty dresser (more on fashion later) . He found his following strongest in Japan, who appreciated his hi-energy delivery, and some of his albums are Japan-only releases. I think he is wrongly dismissed by some, as in: “you need only one Billy Harper album” (Capra Black (Strata East, 1973) Yeah, it’s great, but there’s more to enjoy.
I’m a fan of Harper’s intensity and length of expression, and I confess I’m a sucker for the Love On The Sudan composition. Bitter-sweet opening brass harmonies, attention-commanding high drama, tension between tenor running for freedom against the constraints of the theme, then plunging into a smouldering fire and brimstone pit, a pregnant pause, then roaring off into the body of the piece, a rollercoaster ride in which modal passages swap with fast-paced rhythmic swing and returns to the Sudan anthem.
It’s good to have more than one Billy Harper album, and Love On The Sudan (Priestess) is another good choice, and I must review his Black Saint album (1975), which helped launchthat great Italian Jazz label of the same name. Admittedly, you can have too many. I picked up a Japan-only title Soran-Bushi (1978) , and it was more of the same, a bit indifferent but relentless, not a good combination.
Vinyl: MPS Stereo Germany (1979)
Released on German MPS label, no doubt due to the fact it was recorded in Germany, no mystery there.
Flares Alert! Billy and the boys sport late ’70s trouser cuffs.
I’ve written on the music, time for something a little more whimsical. In lockdown, where else?
Back in 2014, I introduced a new LJC system of dating vintage record covers, by the width of trouser flares. As a fashion-observer (and part-time social anthroplogist), I saw at first hand, bell-bottom trousers defining my generation. (In my 70s wardrobe there was a pair of black velvet flares with 8″ cuffs, which teamed up with stack-heeled snakeskin shoes. Today, only the shoes would still fit, six inches short on the waist).
Fashion often rejects the natural shape of the body, or clothing function, and purposely defines an opposite. Falling down pants? Who would have thought it. Tribal markings, signalling membership of a tribe, those outside the tribe, and within the tribe, a heirarchy of leaders and followers.
The LJC vintage records calibration of flare-width system.