Billy Harper charges up Church Of Sound

A house of praise is the perfect setting for one of the key curtain raisers of this year's EFG London Jazz Festival. The spiritual resonance of Billy Harper's music has captured the imagination of many audiences since his debut in the early 1970s, so his arrival at St. James', lower Clapton, east London, aka Church Of Sound, with its short pews framing an open but compact stage area, is something of a dream scenario. He is joined by a British band comprising players several decades his junior – pianist Robert Mitchell, trumpeter Yelfris Valdes, double bassist Tym Dylan and drummer Moses Boyd – but the 75-year-old Texan cuts an eyebrow-raising dash as he enters.

The tenor saxophonist is wearing the distinctive black leather tunic, giving him the allure of a medieval warrior, which graced classic albums such as Trying To Make Heaven My Home, and he launches straight into music from that period that has considerable significance to this day. Harper, last seen in Britain as part of Messengers-like supergroup The Cookers, found a way of taking the gospel-infused hard bop vocabulary of the likes of Art Blakey and Lee Morgan, both of whom he played with in his formative years, and imbuing it with another modernist dimension. A highlight from the first set such as 'Believe For It Is True', is a perfect example of his aesthetic. A leisurely vamp on one chord is embellished by slides on the bass and purrs of cymbals over which a stinging, stabbing theme is punched out to suggest another tempo. The melody has a choppy, fiery intonation that induces tension amid the rhythmic gentility, thus building a very astute bridge between soul and avant-garde sensibilities that explains much of Harper's musical appeal, which is really emotionally charged communication that nonetheless has a cutting edge. Compositions juxtapose not just light and dark, but softness and spikiness, that, given Harper's frequent use of biblical-based titles, might evoke man's inhumanity to man as well as declarations of faith in the Lord. These are contemporary hymns that appear to question as much as they uplift. They suit a world of strife.

BillyHarperLJF2018 MG 9358

Harper's sound and improvisatory skill reinforce this; powerful, full-bodied tone with a needle-like articulation free of any vibrato, so that the stark, flinty character of the horn underlines the immense gravitas of the compositions. When Mitchell takes an intro with daringly lengthy pauses between chords, to which Boyd and Dylan have to respond manfully in sonic hide and seek, another aspect of Harper's craft is revealed – the alternation of lento and presto phrasing to enhance drama rather than melodrama. Each player, particularly Mitchell, is up to the task. His solos also have an incendiary energy that plays well off the leader's.

In the second set the 12-piece Khoros Choir arrives to perform parts of Capra Black, Harper's timeless debut, and the soaring quality of the music played by the quintet is made more explicit. For a largely young audience this is a precious moment, as it is possibly the closest millennial ears might come to experiencing something of the force of what John Coltrane and Albert Ayler were doing in the 1960s. It is uncompromising music predicated on devotion and healing that Harper has spent his life extending and personalizing, enriching traditions from within rather than without. 'Priestess', proves a fitting closer. Written when Harper was a member of one of Gil Evans' best orchestras, the song is a majestic ode that has become the saxophonist's enduring signature tune, if not a standard that wasn't born on Broadway.

Kevin Le Gendre
– Photos by Roger Thomas

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Stanley Clarke Captivates With Crowd-Sur…

As Return to Forever bass legend Stanley Clarke (pictured above) opened...

Read More.....

Bro, Seim and Gustafsson amid the Scandi…

  As a snapshot of the great charm of Vossa Jazz's...

Read More.....

Laura Mvula, Melt Yourself Down and Alin…

  Love Supreme continue to expand the brand by bringing an...

Read More.....

Empirical get set for Distraction Tactic…

Multi-award winning London four-piece Empirical release the second part of...

Read More.....

Thrice is the charm for APA Cole Porter …

Say what you like about America (and I frequently do)...

Read More.....

Blue Note President Don Was To Receive P…

Don Was, the President of the iconic Blue Note Records...

Read More.....

Brad Mehldau finds Gabriel on Biblical n…

Revered US pianist Brad Mehldau is set to release his...

Read More.....

Tommy Smith and the SNJO dazzle with a m…

The world premiere of Norse Myths took place at Aberdeen...

Read More.....

David Sinclair 1935 – 2019

David Sinclair, one of the most insightful and affectionately-regarded photographers...

Read More.....

Kinch and Siegel lead the collective sto…

Ousted from its Colston Hall home by the builders, the...

Read More.....

Mark Nightingale's Big Band Go Large At …

  Trombonist Mark Nightingale is the most accommodating of virtuosi. He’ll...

Read More.....

Open letter leads protest at cuts to Rad…

Over 500 leading musicians from across the jazz, folk and...

Read More.....

Guinness Cork Jazz Festival director’s ‘…

The Irish jazz world has been shaken by the sudden...

Read More.....

George Coleman, Jimmy Owens and Frank Lo…

The Annual SAM Benefit concert will be held on 13 April...

Read More.....

Cécile McLorin Salvant, Makaya McCraven …

The first names have been unveiled for this year’s EFG...

Read More.....

Turville's Quintet Dare To Dream At Brig…

This is the last show in the tour and there’s...

Read More.....

Durrant At The Double With Duo Of Improv…

Phil Durrant and Martin Vishnick (pictured) launch, Rifinitori di Momenti, their forthcoming...

Read More.....

GoGo Penguin, SEED Ensemble and Marquis …

The wider jazz programme for this year’s Love Supreme Jazz...

Read More.....

Branford Marsalis Quartet Muster Technic…

  Bookended by a short opening solo piano set from Nikki...

Read More.....

Snarky Puppy announce Royal Albert Hall …

Grammy-winning powerhouse group Snarky Puppy are gearing up for a...

Read More.....

Waithe On Song At Huntley Conference

  Along with Allison & Busby and New Beacon, Bogle L’Ouverture...

Read More.....

Turquazz: Anatolian Jazz & Roots Fes…

The inaugural Turquazz: Anatolian Jazz & Roots Festival – a...

Read More.....

Saxophonist Seamus Blake launches new al…

Acclaimed saxophonist Seamus Blake releases his new album, Guardians of...

Read More.....

Taborn's Finessed Tapestry Of Textures F…

  The large number of musicians at this sold-out show says...

Read More.....

Abdullah Ibrahim, Gregory Porter, Yazz A…

The full line-up has been announced for Cheltenham Jazz Festival...

Read More.....

Irreversible Entanglements + Matana Robe…

  Matana Roberts (above) is so relaxed tonight her short opening set...

Read More.....

Jazz FM Awards nominations celebrate gia…

The names for the 2019 Jazz FM Awards were revealed...

Read More.....

Patchwork Jazz Orchestra premiere ‘Badge…

The London-based 17-piece Patchwork Jazz Orchestra are set to release...

Read More.....

NJYO, JCM, friends and family pay tribut…

As Jon Hiseman would say: “If you are going to...

Read More.....

Sons of Kemet, Moses Boyd, Nubya Garcia …

The programme has been announced the inaugural We Out Here...

Read More.....

NCO hit bullseye with CTI at Ronnie Scot…

Tomorrow’s Warriors’ role as a springboard for emerging talent in...

Read More.....

Countdown To Ecstasy: Royal Academy Big …

  There are some people, who I've never understood, who smirk...

Read More.....

Melt Yourself Down, Laura Mvula and Kama…

The second edition of Love Supreme at the Roundhouse takes...

Read More.....

Michel Legrand 24/02/1932 – 26/01/2019

The prolific French film composer and pianist Michel Legrand was...

Read More.....

Hamasyan In Inspired Orchestral Manoeuvr…

The Brussels Jazz Festival is a relative newcomer, but this...

Read More.....

Zara McFarlane and Soweto Kinch turn up …

The night goes on and they keep on coming, a...

Read More.....

Making The Cut Mpu 300x500px

Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

RT @juderogers: News about our open letter to @bbcradio3 protesting the cuts to Late Junction, Jazz Now & Music Planet: soonafter my commen…
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
@erstrecs ah, no worries - I will wait patiently - if you could add me to your mailing list though that would be gr… https://t.co/T1GKBANsZL
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA