Jazz at 100 Hour 93: Music from the Black Saint Label (1975 – 1989)

Billy Harper

Ironically, the record label that most consistently offered an outlet for the American jazz avant-garde in the 1980s was the Italian Black Saint / Soul Note imprint. On the site All About Jazz, Jeff Stockton wrote, “…from 1984 to 1989 Black Saint won the Down Beat critics poll for “Best Label” and “Best Producer” and established itself as the Blue Note of its time, a label whose mark and reputation alone assured the listener that the music would be adventurous, exciting jazz of the highest order.” To capture some essential element of the decade, we have featured Dial in the 40s, Verve in the 50s, Blue Note in the 60s and ECM in the 70s. In this hour of Jazz at 100, the adventurous Black Saint / Soul Note releases of the 1980s.

Billy Harper, Black Saint.
“His gifts as a writer and his big saxophone sound should have made him a star, but the breakthrough never quite came and the majors stayed away, even when many of Harper’s contemporaries were being rediscovered. Like many of his countrymen, Harper had to look to Europe for recognition, and to the Black Saint/Soul Note stable (he inaugurated both imprints) for recording opportunities. Black Saint is still the album people associate with Harper, a strong, eclectic blend of blues, hard-edged rock patterns and the by now familiar preaching style … Harper never surpassed it … A genuine classic and, given Black Saint/Soul Note’s importance in documenting creative Americans over the next three decades, an epoch in modern jazz.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Dance, Dance, Eternal Spirits. Billy Harper Quintet
(Virgil Jones-tp, Billy Harper-ts, Joe Bonner-p, David Friesen-b, Malcom Pinson-d). From Black Saint. 7/21 – 7/22/1975

Julius Hemphill, Flat-out Jump Street.
“Like Dolphy, his alto sound was piercing and intensely vocalized, and always locked into clear musical logics. Hemphill often favoured cello as an alternative harmony instrument, frequently working in duo or group situations with Abdul Wadud, somewhat similar to Dolphy’s collaborations with Ron Carter. At first hearing, Flat-Out Jump Suite sounds more abstract than Hemphill’s later output, but builds to a rousing funk climax on ‘Body.’”– Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Body. Julius Hemphill Quartet
(Olu Dara-tp, Julius Hemphill-fl/ts, Abdul Wadud-cel, Warren Smith-per). From Flat-out Jump Street. 6/4 – 6/5/1980

John Carter, Dauwhe.
For such a major talent, John Carter was not often recorded. “Fortunately, and typically, Black Saint stepped into the breach. In the decade before his death, Carter worked at a multi-part sequence of suites called Roots And Folklore: Episodes In The Development Of American Folk MusicDauwhe, [the first suite] which represents African origins, is strongly articulate and marked by some excellent playing, from [flautist James] Newton in particular. It’s difficult to trace a clear thematic connection between the pieces, but the progress from the long opening ‘Dauwhe’ to the ‘Mating Ritual’ that ends the record (on a definite note of suspension) is a fascinating one.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

The Mating Ritual. John Carter Octet
(Bobby Bradford-cor, Red Callender-tu, John Carter-cl, Charles Owens-ss/ob/cl, James Newton-fl/bfl, Roberto Miranda-b, William Jeffrey-d, Luis Peralta-waterphone/per). From Dauwhe. 2/25, 2/28 & 3/08/1982

Craig Harris, Black Bone.
Craig Harris’s Black Bone “…serves as a reminder that this trombonist and composer … could conjure up striking, insightful themes in a neoclassical mode. This one alternates tricky syncopations in eight and six, which support a growly, ripping, timbre-changing trombone solo by Harris; a taut and pointed one by tenor saxophonist George Adams; and—connecting them—an upbeat Cecil [Taylor]-like offering by pianist Donald Smith, all of them kept on track by [bassist] Fred Hopkins and [drummer] Charlie Persip, who italicize every beat.” – Gary Giddins

Blackwell. Craig Harris Quintet
(Craig Harris-tb, George Adams-ts, Donald Smith-p, Fred Hopkins-b, Charlie Persip-d),. From Black Bone. 1/4/1983

Jimmy Lyons, Give It Up.
Significantly for a player with a long history of collaboration with Cecil Taylor, the ensemble is “pianoless and with only a secondary role for the bassist and drummer, it resolves into a series of high, intermeshed lines from the saxophone and horn, with the bassoon tracing a sombre counterpoint. [Karen] Borca’s role might have been clearer were she not so close in timbre to the bass, but it’s worth concentrating for a moment on what she is doing; the effect is broadly similar to what Dewey Redman used to do behind Ornette and Don Cherry, and Lyons gives her plenty of solo prominence … Only on the brief, uncharacteristic ‘Ballada’, with which Give It Up ends, does Lyons occupy the foreground. It’s immediately clear that his fey, slightly detached tone doesn’t entail an absence of feeling.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook.

Ballada. Jimmy Lyons Quartet with Enrico Rava
(Enrico Rava-tp/flh, Jimmy Lyons-as, Karen Borca-bsn, Jay Oliver-b, Paul Murphy-d). From Give It Up. 3/6 – 3/7/1985

Jaki Byard, Phantasies.
Phantasies is a brawling big-band excursion … Byard’s historical awareness has never been more actively engaged (other than in his solo work) … Phantasies grows rather than recedes in importance with the passing years and its eclecticism now seems almost fashionable. It includes some great ensemble work on the Ellington medley, and some of the modernist things – ‘Lonely Woman’, ‘Impressions’ – are excitingly done. So’s a concluding read of ‘Lover Man’, which is unique of its kind.” – Brian Morton & Richard Cook

Lover Man. Jaki Byard and The Apollo Stompers.
From Phantasies. 9/25 – 9/26/1984

Muhal Richard Abrams, The Hearinga Suite.
“Guru to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Abrams relocated to New York in the’70s and sent the pigeonholers racing for cover. With every recording and concert a discrete project, he produced an immensely varied tableau of works that ranged from basic blues (not least his homage to Muddy Waters) to cultured orchestration and New Music fusions, often with humor. Along the way, he emerged as a major force in the preservation of big band jazz—in this instance as played by 18 pieces that trace the instrumental food chain from glockenspiel to synthesizer. Muhal brings out the best in everyone as ‘Finditnow’ blends unadorned swing (the indispensable [bassist] Fred Hopkins and [drummer] Andrew Cyrille), four- and eight-bar exchanges (best are Abrams’s piano and Warren Smith’s vibes), a succinct flute and soprano sax passage, a Bach-inspired cello interlude (Diedre Murray), and rare voicings for xylophone and trombones.” – Gary Giddins

Finditnow. Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra
(Ron Tooley, Jack Walrath, Cecil Bridgewater, Frank Gordon, Clifton Anderson, Dick Griffin, Jack Jeffers, Bill Lowe, John Purcell, Marty Ehrlich, Patience Higgins, Winter, Davis, Murray, Fred Hopkins, Smith, Andrew Cyrille). From Hearinga Suite. 1/17 – 1/18/1989

Between the founding of Black Saint in 1975 and its sale to Cam Jazz in 2008, Giovanni Bonandrini and his son, Flavio, created perhaps the most remarkable catalog of jazz releases of its time. The labels are noted for the unflagging commitment to their artists and for the impeccable quality of the music they have produced.

Never far from the pulse of jazz innovation, New York in the 1980s incubated what has become known as the “downtown scene.” Radically multi-stylistic, the resulting music was unabashedly eclectic, celebrating influences from bebop to punk rock to cartoon music and eventually klezmer and Balkan music. John Zorn and the “downtown scene” in the next hour of Jazz at 100.

Billy Harper. Black Saint. Black Saint BSR 0001
Julius Hemphill. Flat-out Jump Street. Black Saint BSR 0040
John Carter. Dauwhe. Black Saint BSR 0057
Craig Harris. Black Bone. Soul Note ‎SN 1055
Jimmy Lyons. Give It Up. Black Saint BSR 0087
Jaki Byard and The Apollo Stompers. Phantasies. Soul Note SN 1075
Muhal Richard Abrams. The Hearinga Suite. Black Saint 120103

Giddins, Gary. 2004. Weather Bird: Jazz at the Dawn of Its Second Century. New York, NY. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 118. Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945 – 2001)
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Billy Harper. Black Saint
Julius Hemphill. Flat-out Jump Street
John Carter. Dauwhe
Craig Harris. Black Bone
Jimmy Lyons. Give It Up
Jaki Byard and The Apollo Stompers. Phantasies
Stockton, Jeff. Black Saint / Soul Note. All About Jazz. May 5, 2007. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/black-saint-soul-note-by-jeff-stockton.php?pg=1

Annotated playlists and streaming links for all the Jazz at 100 broadcasts: Jazz at 100

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