The Return of the Black Saints (and Soul Notes)
Most, nearly all, of these musicians recorded on one of two Italian labels in the ‘80s—Black Saint or Soul Note. Both were distributed in the US by Polygram Special Imports, until the late ‘80s when various mergers shut the subsidiary down, leaving the two foreign labels were homeless. But during their few years of prominence in American record bins, they acquired the same reputation among modern jazz fans that Blue Note had enjoyed in the 1950s and early ‘60s. Especially Black Saint was the label you had to buy if you wanted to hear what was happening. It had a signature; its music was adventurous but accessible, experimental but swinging, soaring to the stars but tethered to the earth. (The sound quality was usually quite good, too.)
Many of the LPs were transferred to CD, but they were increasingly hard to find. I have recently been made aware of a Black Saint website, where nearly all of the two labels’ albums are for sale. (Thanks to trumpeter Dave Douglas, whose blog noted the site’s existence.) Each CD costs 14 euros, which, because of the Bush administration’s horrid economic policies, translates to a lot more American dollars (as of today, about $20) than was the case a few years ago (when it would have been about half as much). But so it goes.
Here (in alphabetical order, by artist) are some of my favorites:
George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet, Don’t Lose Control, Hand to Hand; Geri Allen-Charlie Haden-Paul Motian, Etudes; Muhal Richard Abrams, The Hearinga Suite (17-piece big band); Billy Bang, The Fire from Within; Ed Blackwell-Dewey Redman-Charlie Haden-Don Cherry, Old and New Dreams; Ran Blake, Suffield Gothic, Duke’s Dreams; Anthony Braxton, 6 Monk’s Compositions; Dave Douglas, Five; Andrew Hill, Shades, Verona Rag; David Murray, Home (octet), The Healers (duets with Randy Weston), Morning Song (quartet); Cecil Taylor, For Olim; Tom Varner, Martian Heartache; Mal Waldron, Sempre Amore (duets with Steve Lacy), Seagulls of Kristiansund (sextet); World Saxophone Quartet, Revue, Steppin’.
Buy any and all of them. You won’t go wrong.