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Billy Harper: Live On Tour In the Far East, Vol. 1

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Album Review

This series of live discs mark the first recordings of what became the regular working quintet of the criminally underrated saxophonist, composer and bandleader Billy Harper. With bassist Louie Spears the new addition to the line-up, three distinct concerts were recorded on Harper's spring, 1991 tour of the Far East and released separately without any duplication of material. Volume One comes from Pusan, Korea on April 27 and while the sound isn't the best — the bass and drums are muted and lack crispness — the extremely high quality of the music and interaction between the players more than compensates. Harper's intense opening solo almost rushes the opening "I Do Believe" too much and it takes Eddie Henderson's trumpet to cool things down. The piece doesn't sound so much like a set-opener as a mid-set entry when both the group and the audience have settled into the music. John Coltrane's "Countdown" features Harper's long, blazing lines in duet with drummer Newman T. Baker before piano and bass enter for a taste of the classic Coltrane quartet sound on the closing cadenzas. Pianist Francesca Tanksley's "Dance In The Question" is almost the real starting point — Henderson and Harper display their near-telepathic harmonic empathy and Baker gets a little lead space over her left-hand riff near the end. "Insight" finds Henderson tossing out long, fast solo lines over light, fluid backing from the rhythm section before Harper ups the intensity quotient with another tenor/drums duo. Yet the group has no problem turning on the tenderness (and dropping a few thrilling trills) for the ballad "If One Could Only See" or tackle a more measured, mid-tempo groove on "Croquet Ballet," another fine display of Harper & Henderson harmonies. On Tour, Vol. 1 shows an impressive musical range, great command of dynamics and is just loaded with really sharp, smart, excellent music once it hits its stride. And it's probably the least exciting of these three discs released from a tour that should have established Billy Harper's quintet as a major group in the jazz world.

Customer Reviews

Best in Person

I can still vividly remember the first time I heard Harper. My father owned a magical Sony Walkman that seemed, at the time, like the most amazing contraption ever construed. I remember sitting on his lap one Easter morning, him cultivating my mind with music from the greatest of jazz and blues masters. Out of all of them, including the World Saxophone Quartet and Thelonious Monk, one track stuck in my mind: Somalia. A piece that begins with a heavy bass line, vocals, and then cuts into Harper's spiraling saxophone blows. To this day, I cannot get that song out of my mind whenever someone mentions jazz. Recently I went with my dad to see Harper playing at Yoshi's in Jack London Square. The point is this: If you really want to hear Harper being himself, you've got to hear it live, and this is as close as it gets without leaving your house.


Born: January 17, 1943 in Houston, TX

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Billy Harper is one of a generation of Coltrane-influenced tenor saxophonists who actually built upon the master's work, rather than simply copy it. Harper is consummately well-rounded, able to play convincingly in any context, from bop to free. His muscular tone, lithe articulation, comprehensive harmonic knowledge, and unflagging energy define him as a saxophonist. He's also possessed of an abundant imagination that connects directly to his blues and gospel roots. Though not as well-known as he...
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Billy Harper: Live On Tour In the Far East, Vol. 1, Billy Harper
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