Billy Harper

Soul of an Angel

  • AllMusic Rating
    9
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

AllMusic Review by

That Billy Harper's tenor saxophone is one of the most distinctive voices in modern jazz is a given. His rich, sonorous post-Coltrane sound is only rivaled by David Murray, and his depth of passionate discourse is matched by no other current day peer. He is also one of the few musician/composer/bandleaders to sport a longtime working ensemble, comprising trumpeter Dr. Eddie Henderson, pianist Francesca Tanksley, bassist Clarence Seay, and drummer Newman Taylor Baker. The music on this recording has religious or spiritual subtexts but not at the expense at the power and glory of what is essentially a style that only Harper possesses: literate, majestic, swelling, heavy, expansive and extensive, slightly on the edge, swinging, and always thoroughly visceral. A slow, serene trumpet solo and powerhouse free tenor starts the 13 1/2 minute "Thine Is the Glory," a prelude for 4/4, modal, soulful swing, the leader establishing his vaunted heat and might from the beginning, free coda and slight return to the melody. Tanksley's pianistics are as lyrical as any à la McCoy Tyner. A 6/8 rhythm buoys short, clipped phrases in "Credence" informing lustrous harmonic lines, while the similarly 6/8-paced "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" is more lilting and all Billy Harper. Clarion, bluesy 2/4 shouting stacatto horns joined by John Clark's singing French horn identifies "Let All the Voices Sing" while a steady, patient waltz pattern similar to "Priestess" on the title cut places Harper in a position where he's tempted to double the time on his solo, but he doesn't. Tanksley's bright, stunningly beautiful modernity and original ideas are quite prevalent prior to a Seay solo with Harper supporting in supple mode then surging ahead with Baker. "Was It Here... Is It There?" is simply an out-and-out hard bopper reminiscent of the Hank Mobley-Lee Morgan combine with Harper and Henderson in perfect union. This is a Rock of Gibraltar solid CD, ranking amongst Harper's very best efforts, leaving nothing on the table, and cementing his status as an admirable figure and one of the very best performers, improvisers, and pure players in the idiom. Highly recommended without reservation, and a strong candidate for Jazz CD of Y2K.

blue highlight denotes track pick