Black Saint, Soul Note, and DIW

Watching Bobby Bradford and David Murray on the bandstand together at the Jazz Standard Saturday night (see my last blog entry) inspired me to take another listen to the only CD that paired them together, Death of a Sideman, recorded in 1991 under Murray’s name but featuring nothing but Bradford compositions, eight tracks’ worth.

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?

nunh's picture

I'm back to checking out your blog and my beloved jazz music (been voyaging into electronica territory - such as Sebastian Tellier, Telefon Tel Aviv, The Black Ghosts). Anyway, appreciate your articles and blog!

Artie's picture

Fred,A great idea--I bought a lot of Black Saint and Soul Note when it was available, but missed a lot too. It may be hard to get the usual reissue outfits to go ahead, however. I complained to Acoustic Sounds about the timid choices for the Fantasy 45 RPM reissues, and was told that they simply went with the albums that were already best sellers--that's why we see the same reissues, over and over. And let's face it, the average audiophile can't handle avant garde jazz. They don't like Dolphy, always reach for the least adventurous Coltrane, have never heard of Sam Rivers, etc.

hockman's picture

Agree totally on the high quality of the Soul Notes and Black Saints.Can't agree that audiophile labels should put these out on their silly 200gm or at 45rpm vinyl. The original vinyl sounds great. The music deserves a wider audience but we don't need audiophile releases of this music that cater primarily to the well-heeled gear head.

Fred Kaplan's picture

Hockman - You're right that the original vinyl sounds very good on a lot of those Black Saints and Soul Notes - but where do you find the original vinyl? Nowhere, not even much on the used market. And these records are now a quarter-century old; a lot of people who might like them were barely alive back then. Don't need 200g or 45 rpm (that was a fantasy on top of a fantasy), but a nice 33-1/3 would be nice. As for 'philes and progressive jazz, Speakers Corner came out with a great pressing of "Newport Rebels;" Classic came out with Rollins' "Our Man in Jazz" and "East Broadway Rundown." How did they sell? I don't know. But these things HAVE been done, to a point. And not all the BS/SNs were all that avant-garde (David Murray's "Morning Song" might be a winner, for instance.) Just a thought...Fred Kaplan

jrmandude's picture

Some of the George Adams and Don Pullen stuff was very main stream. Adams was critized for being timid and doing covers - I disagreed 'cause it was beautiful shit.

Mikey's picture

What about Andrew Hill's "Shades" on Soul Note? One of his best later discs and stunning sound to boot.

Dennis Davis's picture

I doubt Cisco is listening as it has gone the way of the Dodo.

Paula's picture

Let it be known that the Soul Note and Black Saint labels, since CAM Jazz acquired them in 2008, have been made available at all major digital stores worldwide. CDs can be purchased at the website and through Amazon’s “Disc On Demand” service. AND, although not vinyl, CAM Jazz will be reissuing the complete remastered recordings on CD, in box sets per artist, that will mirror their original LP versions.

Artie's picture

Thank you Paula for the information. The CD box sets sound great, but vinyl reissues would be even nicer--plain old 33 RPM is fine!

JackRamon's picture

Hello, since you seem to be a major fan of Chico Freeman, please be informed that Chico is about to put back on the market a large part of his back-catalog including the much sought after India Navigation LPs..As an appetizer and during two weeks, gives away 16 Chico Freeman's Classics in 256 kbs. If you want to support this initiative we suggest you embed in your blog a widget picked at Chico Freeman on GetJukeBy advance and in Chico's name, we thank you for your help.The GetJuke Team

Flatz's picture

I have a very large collection of the Black Saint label and ESP and I am forced to sell them. Where do you suggest is the best place to list them? Many of them are still sealed. All CD's. Also a rather large collection of Al Sur world music label which was an amazing label. Thank you!

Paula's picture

The previously mentioned Soul Note and Black Saint box sets are currently being released and are available for purchase at the website. ALSO, at the same site, there is a new section where you can purchase LPs from the same labels.

Alligator's picture

I am staggered that you could write something like "Both labels are long out of print.."Black Saint/Soul Note has *never* been out of print as a label. One of the absolutely heroic things that Bonandrini was doing was trying to keep everything on his labels in print. Even if it meant on a handful of titles , burning you a CD and digital copying the artwork.There was full explanation of this, and on the many hundreds of titles that were avail. in full commercial editions , on the Black Saint website.Which was a long-established one, and took about 40 seconds to locate through Google. For years and years.There was almost zero downtime (website-wise) afer the labels were sold and moved over to CAM (current owner).I share your enthusiasm Fred, for Bradford and Murray - but find it extremely dissapointing that there used to be this label guy who worked *so hard* to keep all his stuff in print, for *so long*. But you worked *so little* *so quickly* to declare this stuff "long out of print".