Black Saint, Soul Note, and DIW
The band on the disc was even more amazing than the one at the Standard: Murray on tenor sax and Bradford on cornet, joined by Fred Hopkins on bass, Ed Blackwell on drums, and, on a few tracks, Dave Burrell on piano. Hopkins was one of the most agile bassists of the era. Blackwell was one of the half-dozen greatest jazz drummers of the last half-century, slapping every strand of jazz tradition onto the trapset (African rhythms, New Orleans dance, gutbucket blues, polyrhythmic bebop, soulful swing) and pushing it all forward.
I hadn’t heard the disc for several years, but don’t ask me why because it turns out to be one of Murray’s best: a mix of minor-key melancholy, Monk riffs that shift a bit more off-centered than Monk, and free improvisation that never descends into mere howling.
It was one of several albums that Murray made in 1991, released either on the Italian label Black Saint or the Japanese label DIW. (Death of a Sideman was on DIW.) Both labels are long out of print, though many of their titles are available as MP3s.
Black Saint (along with Soul Note, another Italian label owned by the same proprietor, Giovanni Bonandrini) was the hip jazz label from the late 1970s through the early ‘90s, an era when the most creative avant-gardists were exploring the music’s roots—rediscovering the appeal of beauty, wit, and swing—and sifting them through their own individual sounds.
Artists included Murray, Blackwell, the World Saxophone Quartet, Don Pullen, George Adams, Cassandra Wilson, Muhal Richard Abrams, Cecil Taylor, Mal Waldron, Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton, Andrew Hill, Paul Bley, Billy Bang, Lester Bowie, Jaki Byard, Chico Freeman, Dewey Redman, Sam Rivers, Max roach, George Russell, Archie Shepp, and Sun Ra, to name a few.
Black Saint and Soul Note were to the jazz of that era what Blue Note and Impulse! were to theirs. Jazz fans would buy the latest releases on the reputation of the label alone, knowing they’d hear music that was adventurous but (for the most part) accessible, virtuosic with a beat, soaring to the stars but tied to the ground. And a lot of those albums also sounded very good. (Blue Note and Impulse!, it should be noted, were small indie labels in their heyday, too.)
This got me to thinking: Some audiophile-reissue house should put out the best Black Saints and Soul Notes, and maybe DIWs too, on 180-gram vinyl (and while I’m dreaming, it’d be nice if they were mastered at 45 rpm).
How many more audiophile pressings of Blue Train and Way Out West do we need? There are quite a few Blue Note reissues selling for $50 a pop (at 45 rpm or otherwise) that, quite frankly, we don’t need at all, on sonic or musical grounds.
A Black Saint/Soul Note LP-reissue series would be a major contribution, the source of deep joy to modern-jazz-loving audiophiles. I would be happy to donate my services to drawing up a list of priorities. Classic Records, Speakers Corner Records, Cisco Records, Acoustic Sounds—you guys listening?