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Sonny Fortune/Billy Harper/Stanley Cowell/Reggie Workman/Billy Hart: Great Friends

Recorded in 1986 in Paris and originally released only in France, Great Friends mines the John Coltrane spiritual legacy with fervent incantatory playing and an ecstatic charge. Not that alto saxophonist Fortune and tenor man Harper necessarily speak with Trane’s voice, but the intensity of their playing and their use of certain scales and modes produce a Tranelike atmosphere. Drummer Hart (who organized this band at the request of a Japanese promoter), bassist Workman and pianist Cowell form a hard-hitting team along side the horns.

Things begin with “Cal Massey,” a tribute penned by Cowell. Harper sets the spiritual vibe in motion with a big-toned, take-no-prisoners solo. The Texas tenor man has the heaviest low-register sound in the business. On Workman’s “East Harlem Nostalgia,” he chomps into the low notes as a prelude to wailing runs into the upper register. Harper’s uptempo “Insight” is the album’s tour de force, with rippling solos and torrid exchanges between the saxophonists. Fortune’s searing tone is well suited to the exuberant joyride of this performance.

The rhythm section can be compared to the McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones triumvirate that backed Trane. Equally heavyweight and agile, it is relentless in its conviction and spiritual attitude.

Great Friends is hot.

Originally Published