Billy Harper: Black Saint (1975) Japan 1976

Selection: Croquet Ballet (Harper)

.  .  .


Billly Harper, Tenor saxophone; Virgil Jones, trumpet; Joe Bonner, piano; David Friesen, bass; Malcolm Pinson, drums; recorded July 21 & 22, 1975 at Barclay Studios, Paris, France, recording engineer Peter Dobler, cover art, Ariel Soule; photo, Guiseppe G Pino.


Billy Harper on tour in Europe 1975 – recorded in Paris (France). The selection Croquet Ballet is a typical Harper modal-swinger, strong opening theme, some funk-leaning sections betrays its ’70s roots, lots of improvisational space, stretching out over half of one side, another track the whole side.

Many Harper albums feature extended presentations of his relatively small repertoire of compositions, often live variants of the originals studio sessions. Croquet Ballet is also found on the Steeplechase Harper live albums, along with Priestess. You decide whether you want another version of the same piece..

And there is the Lee Morgan interpretation of Croquet Ballet.


Vinyl: Tokuma Musical Industries JC 3501 stereo (1976)

Never heard of Tokuma Industries as a jazz or record label. Seems an  obscure connection, perhaps someone knew someone.

This edition is the  first release in Japan, around a year after the European release. Contrast the Japanese issue (below centre and left) with its OBI in place and colour label, with the first European Black Saint,  black and white label design (below, right).

The Black Saint record label was founded in Italy in 1975 Giacomo Pellicciotti, Until 1979, Black Saint releases were distributed by various companies: Harmony S.R.L., Rana s.r.l., EMI ITALIANA S.p.A., HI-FI & Record Center, some of whose imprint is found on the back cover.  Harper’s  Black Saint album was subsequently reissuedon vinyl  in 1993, with the colourful Black Saint label, bar code on back cover.

Insert (Japan)

Our friends from Tokyo enjoy an insert in Japanese, though the more serious collector will be seeking out the original European edition.

Collector’s Corner:  Billy Harper Catch-Up – The Cookers

Bring Harper’s story up to date, Billy took pride of place in The Cookers, a veteran line up that was new to me, though I knew many of the artists of old: Eddie Henderson, Cecil McBee, George Cables, Billy Hart, Azar Lawrence. We are entering the post-vinyl post-CD ephemeral land of streaming and download: i-Tunes, Stranger in a Strange Land (pace Robert A Heinlein) however we must some times boldly go, and split the infinitive.

I borrow liberally from The Cookers  home site:

“An electrifying ensemble of seven legendary jazz veterans and unmistakable chemistry… with peerless musicianship that’s both elegant and incandescent” – itunes

” Together for seven years (2009-16, now probably longer) The Cookers bring an aggressive mid ‘60s spirit to a repertoire of expansive post-bop originals.  With five critically acclaimed recordings, WarriorsCast the First Stone, Believe, Time and Time Again (i-Tunes jazz album of the year 2014), and The Call of the Wild and Peaceful Heart;  The Cookers enter the studio with an incredibly high level of musicianship which  has only increased with the latest offering of fresh, challenging, boundary-pushing music from these veteran improvisers.”

Seen here on YouTube at The Cooker’s outset in 2009, a nicely filmed and recorded session at a German Annual Jazz Festival in Upper Bavaria, near the border with Austria (dons lederhosen, slaps thighs, steins all-round!). The Cookers is not a reunion band, nor a tribute band, or a nostalgia tour band,  it is the real deal. The only thing I would change is the name – online search tends to return kitchen appliances…

That aside, the music is great, and, just perhaps, you may decide it’s time to jazz up your kitchen … with a new cooker. Serendipitous find, eh?. Let’s do the Time Warp.

Jazzwoche Burghausen 2009


Five years later in the studio,  from the award winning Time And Time Again album, composition Sir Galahad:


This is information-rich acoustic instrument performance, perfect for audiophile vinyl delivery. However all five Cookers albums are available only on CD, which is why they were unknown to me. However the CDs each include material that is already on Harper’s earlier vinyl: The Call Of The Wild And Peaceful Heart – on  CD 11:10,  Vinyl Side 2 of Black Saint 21:26; Sir Galahad (Time and Time Again CD)  also appears on Strata East’s Capra Black, . Dance Eternal Spirt Dance appears on CD but also is the last track on the Black Saint vinyl

Harper also seems to have issued quite a lot of material on CD as leader

`The-wicked-queen-SpotifyThe new material on CD look more like bonus tracks suplementing Harper’s established vinyl repertoire. However some material remains a  prisoner of only The Evil Silver Disc™, and the Wicked Witch of the West, Spotify,  mother of Infinite Choice™, the  arch-enemy of vinyl, and ultimate evil.  “Don’t touch that dial!  Hahaahahhaa, you can’t stop!  Alexa, Cortana, he’s all yours, do as you wish. It’s your turn to give orders…”

Eddie Henderson, trumpeter alongside Billy Harper in The Cookers, just enjoyed his 80th birthday. Interviewed for the latest edition of LondonJazzNews, he reminisced about his early days among the big names..

“…when I was 16 or 17 Miles Davis came and stayed in my parents’ house. That’s when the light went on in my head about jazz music. I’d never heard music at that level. He had John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley in his band. And for a sixteen-year-old kid to hear that, it was a life-changing thing. I remember thinking to myself: that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. I didn’t know you could do that with an instrument.

Other stepping-stones after that were Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan. I used to follow them around like puppy dogs. What opened the door to me was playing with Herbie Hancock. That was the first time I was on the bandstand with my heroes and that lifted me up by the bootstraps! I didn’t have to go through jam sessions and auditioning. Everyone – Joe Henderson, McCoy, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean – they would just call me by virtue of the fact that I had played with Herbie Hancock. It was a dream come true. To be lifted up to the highest level, that changed my life.”

I’ll leave the last word on Harper and The Cookers to Jazzwise magazine:

“If you wondered what has happened to all the passion and intensity, once such essential ingredients of great swinging jazz and now virtually non-existent in so much of today’s outpourings, you’ll find it all in The Cookers.”
-Tony Hall, Jazzwise Magazine

Run! Hurry back to vinyl, before it’s too late! Digital forces are massing on all fronts.

I set  my destination date to 1975, back to the future.

Phew, that was close. The Black Saint label was established  in 1975 to showcase artists who would not otherwise gain an audience.   It’s worth a glance at Black Saint early albums.

Billy Harper first out of the box. I have four of the ten titles: Archie Shepp, Sam Rivers, Steve Lacy. Though not a fan of avant garde, perhaps they will grow on me.

Catalog number Artist Title
BSR 0001 Billy Harper Black Saint
BSR 0002 Archie Shepp A Sea of Faces
BSR 0003 Muhal Richard Abrams featuring Malachi Favors Sightsong
BSR 0004 Don Pullen featuring Sam Rivers Capricorn Rising
BSR 0005 Frank Lowe The Flam
BSR 0006/7 The 360 Degree Music Experience In: Sanity
BSR 0008 Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Kent Carter, Beaver Harris Trickles
BSR 0009 Oliver Lake Holding Together
BSR 0010 Don Pullen Healing Force

Black Saint sister label, Soul Note

 I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to the avant garde. Black Saint’s sister label Soul Note is a little more my metier. Soul Note also kicked off with a Billy Harper title, Billy Harper Quintet in Europe, similar provenance but featuring different tracks, but another rendition of “Priestess”. much the same as the studio session, so I get just one side of fresh material (two tracks)

The Soul Note label  featured more mainstream artists than Black Saint, but in more challenging presentations than mainstream.

On my shelf I have a good spread of Soul Note titles, some linked to previous posts, probably more should be aded in future. Whilst the best in jazz since 1939 is on Blue Note, one can’t live on Blue Note alone, man.

Kenny Drew, Andrew Hill (Shades, Stange Serenade) , Misha Mengelberg (Regeneration, Change Of Season), Mingus Dynasty (Mingus Sounds Of Love, Reincarnation), Clifford Jordan, Jazztet (Moment To Moment)  Archie Shepp (Down Home New York) , Mal Waldron (Seagulls of Kristiansund – a personal favourite). Other Soul-Noters: Horace Parlan, Steve Lacy, Roswell Rudd, Kenny Wheeler, George Russell (Live In An American Time Spiral) , Cecil Taylor (Segments) Lee Konitz (The New York Album), Art Farmer (Manhattan).

Any thoughts on Black Saint/ Soul Note label, or  favourites or recommendations? I’ll have some soon, but the floor is yours




13 thoughts on “Billy Harper: Black Saint (1975) Japan 1976

  1. So many wonderful (and analogue) records … quickly david Murray’s Octect records, the magical desert island disc; the Healers a duet with Randy Weston and David Murray, Don Pullen/George Adams live at Village Vanguard …..


  2. I would recc. Some titles
    Sempre Amore by the Mal Waldron Steve Lacy duo. One of their best. On SN
    Secrets, Enrico Rava quintet on Soul Note.
    Haden, Baker, Pieranunzi, Higgins: Silence. A masterwork Always on Soul Note
    Last Deep Down magic trio of mr Pieranunzi with Marc Johnson and drum. I know you di not love piano trio. But this One….Is ex!


  3. When we were teenager Black Saint and Soul Note represented for us the main access to new shapes of jazz. I’m Italian and now that I’m 41 I still hear this recordings with great interest and they still represent a challenge. Among them I will suggest the Henry Threadgill Air Group recordings, the wonderful solo Monk’s music exploration by Steve Lacy (More Monk and Only Monk) … and many more


  4. Soul Note was set to be the more conservative label (Soul Note like Blue Note) while Black Saint was for the more avant garde music. I’ve loved both labels forever and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite although I too love the Billy Harper featured here and the Sonny Clark Memorial Album. The good news for people just getting started is they are usually as “cheap as chips”.


  5. Black Saint / Soul Note are two of the go-to labels of the 70’s and 80’s. There’s certainly a bit more “edge” to the music compare to the more classic labels (Blue Note, Riverside, etc.), but as Hawk mentions below, I don’t really consider it avant-garde. My favorite musician on the label is David Murray, particularly on bass clarinet (such as Morning Star, BSR 0075, with John Hicks, Reggie Workman, and Ed Blackwell). Another standout is Don Pullen – he has that bizarre technique of playing the piano with the back of his hands and forearms, creating blurs of notes across the keyboard – a totally unique sound. George Adams and Don Pullen Quartet also released several great records on the label.


  6. In the late 70s to early 90s, BS/SN put out some of the most interesting jazz music around when jazz was mostly under siege from rock, pop, funk and soul. To me, it’s one of the great jazz labels along with BN, ECM, Contemporary etc. I don’t really consider the music to be very avant garde, certainly not more so than say the Blue Note Cecil Taylor or Don Cherry or Ornette albums.

    Some of my personal SN/BS favorites include many of the Waldron and Enrico Pieranunzi albums. One of my prized Black Saint albums is the Sonny Clark Memorial quartet featuring some more avant garde artists (John Zorn!) with their special take on classic ‘hard bop’ tunes. Any of the David Murray albums are special; these were made when Murray was at his peak and was extremely prolific. Note though some of the early ones are a bit ‘free’.

    In general, I would not hesitate to pick up any BS/SN records I come across. They may not be your cup of tea but they usually contain interesting music.


  7. The Cookers were booked to play London’s Church of Sound back in March and I was about to press the trigger on buying my ticket when Lockdown 1.0 struck. The gigs were cancelled and I now continue to keep my fingers crossed for a rebooking some time in 2021. Very much in the same way that I remain hopeful that the delayed Strata East 50th anniversary tour will eventually happen. Strange times indeed…


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