After enjoying roughly half a century at the center of popular culture - despite its continued, towering cultural importance - by the 1970s jazz had fallen onto hard times. Its audiences drifted away, heeding the call of less demanding idioms like rock, soul, and funk. As a result, the activities of many of this music’s most important voices - often at the height of their powers - could only find a home for their efforts on private or small, independently run imprints. Among the most important of these was Black Saint / Soul Note, an Italian ‘double’ label based in Milan, that would offer shelter to artists like Anthony Braxton, Max Roach, Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, David Murray, Roscoe Mitchell, Billy Harper, Muhal Richard Abrams, Frank Lowe, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell, Sun Ra, and a near countless number of others.
In an effort to remedy the sinfully under-recognized contributions of Black Saint / Soul Note, the Rome based imprint, Hyperjazz Records, has taken a deep dive into their expansive catalogues and come up with “Hyperituals Vol. 2 - Black Saint”, a double LP compilation gathering a body of insane, heavily groove-oriented gems by Sun Ra Arkestra, Archie Shepp, Karl Berger, Muhal Richard Abrams, John Carter, Joseph Jarman, Don Moye, Johnny Dyani, Don Pullen, World Saxophone Quartet, and others. The second of a series dedicated to the pair (the previous one was dedicated to Soul Note) curated by Khalab (Raffaele Costantino) and beautifully produced with liner notes by Enrico Bettinello, not only is it an astoundingly infectious body of creative music, but it takes significant leaps toward bettering our perception of history and the tenant and scope of each of the artists that it contains.
Its name nodding to Charles Mingus’ seminal LP, “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady”, Black Saint was founded in 1975 by the Italian duo of Giacomo Pelliciotti and Giacomo Battistella. Launching with a stunning LP by the Billy Harper Quintet (also titled “Black Saint”), the imprint joined a small handful of independent labels - Freedom, Palm, Kharma, America, Sun, Delmark, etc. - devoted to supporting the avant-garde artists, the majority of whom where African American working in the field of improvised music and jazz during the wilderness years of the 1970s and '80s, when few found support at home in the United States. Arguably more than any other, Black Saint went the furthest, showing an unparalleled dedication to these sounds - particularly to those associated with the AACM - issuing hundreds of records over the coming decades.
While briefly forewording into the 1990s, “Hyperituals Vol. 2” is primarily a deep dive into some of the most remarkable jazz produced across the length of the 1970s and 1980s, a period often regarded as having been dominated by regressive and often explicitly conservative realizations of the art form. “Hyperituals, Vol. 2” tells a very different tale, with its curator, Khalab (Hyperjazz founder Raffaele Costantino) gathering 13 tracks of pure gold from the Black Saint’s catalog, many of which have never seen a vinyl release.
In addition to the startling quality of its sounds, “Hyperituals Vol. 2” gains distinction through the historical implications illuminated by its careful curation. While jazz certainly deployed advanced forms of creative innovation within the realms of popular music across the '70s - notably the electrified, funk laden excursions of Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Donald Byrd - the compilation highlights an almost entirely overlooked trajectory of the music that spanned the '80s and '90s, falling somewhere between more mainstream tastes, and the advanced forms of creative thinking that defined free and spiritual jazz.
Launching with the tricking, African inspired rhythms of The Leaders’s “Wait a Minute” - a super group that brought together some of the strongest personalities from the African American creative world (the initial lineup also included Don Cherry and Don Pullen!) - the comp takes us into the incredible context sculpted by the Black Saint catalog, moving across realms of magical ritual lyricism delivered by Archie Shepp’s “Song for Mozambique”, the otherworldliness of Sun Ra Arkestra’ “Love On a Far Away Planet”, the irresistible percussive webs woven by “Metamusician’s Stomp”, Andrew Cyrille's stunner with its contagious bass line and the exuberant tenor of David S. Ware, the Polychromatic portrait of an imaginary primeval Africa of John Carter and George Russell, and driving Modal fire sparked by The Don Pullen Quintet - amongst so much more - it’s a truly thrilling journey that defies all expectations, not the least of which being the diversity of activities happening during the period that the album spans.
By combining jazz tradition with the political vanguard sentiment of the time, Black Saint (and Soul Note) were able to press and produce more than five hundred records, many of which are by some of the brightest names in creative jazz or the ‘avant-garde’ of the era. The selection - focused on rhythms, grooves, and Afrocentric traditions - blends moments in which the rhythmic aspect is powerfully explicit, with others in which the kinetic aspect dialogues on different levels with African American cultural contexts, while refusing to sacrifice an incredibly ambitious sense of creative drive. Khalab's selection illustrates not only a dystopian and Afrocentric sensibility, but moments of astounding brilliance and emotional ecstasy.
Available as a stunningly produced double LP coming in a gatefold sleeve with liner notes by Enrico Bettinello, it’s an absolute revelation that endeavours to change everything we think we know. Easily one of the best and historically important compilations we’ve encountered in a good long time.