Sonny Fortune – Great Friends – Evidence Records (1987/2003)/Pure Pleasure Records (2022) 180-gram stereo double vinyl, 62:03 **** 1/2:
(Sonny Fortune – alto saxophone; Billy Harper – tenor saxophone; Stanley Cowell – piano; Reggie Workman – double bass; Billy Hart – drums)
Pure Pleasure Records has established a considerable jazz legacy. With great attention to both sound and packaging detail, the label has been at the forefront of the jazz vinyl revival. Additionally, they have focused on lesser known artists who recorded in relative obscurity. These reissued 180-gram discs present top-notch jazz to a worldwide audience in a straightforward manner. One of the current releases is Sonny Fortune – Great Friends. Fortune was a versatile reed player who played with Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner, Buddy Rich, Mongo Santamaria, Roy Ayers, Gary Bartz and Pharaoh Sanders. He enjoyed a four-decade career as a bandleader.
Great Friends was originally recorded in 1987, following a tour through France. Joining Fortune (alto saxophone) is a veritable all-star cadre of musicians including Billy Harper (tenor saxophone), Stanley Cowell (piano), Reggie Workman (double bass) and Billy Hart (drums). The result is a dynamic, assured jazz session. Side A opens with the swing bop number “Cal Massey”. After composer Stanley Cowell’s bluesy rolling intro, Billy Harper intones with a muscular tenor saxophone. Cowell returns with a syncopated, breathless solo and then Fortune wails on alto. This is a masterful jazz translation in under four minutes. Drummer Hart kicks off “It’s Not True, Simply Because You Can’t Believe It”. Harper and Fortune execute flawless harmony as they explore Middle eastern motifs. Again Cowell’s deft, eloquent piano acts as a counterpoint to the gritty thick saxophone tonality. The quintet displays meticulous timing and chemistry, and the slow-fade ending is memorable. With a Latin-infused vibe, Fortune’s “Thoughts” articulates an edgier resonance, and Fortune shines on a fluent, urgent solo. Harper follows with a run featuring more lower-register emphasis. The arrangement showcases the rhythm section (Cowell, Workman and Hart) anchoring a syncopated tempo.
Side B features two numbers. “Equipoise” distills near-spiritual quality as the saxophone is reminiscent of Coltrane. Workman adds a nimble double bass solo and exchanges brilliantly with Cowell. Fortune’’s soulful exploration with some textured assistance from Harper is compelling. Another cut, “Synapse” begins as a free-form translation. It settles into a moody statement with Cowell’s feathery touch and Workman’s sinewy bass. The bassist kicks off the up tempo Latin-infused “East Harlem Nostalgia”. The swing is there as the quintet is in the pocket. Both Fortune and Harper add a bright shading to this jam. On “Insight”, drummer Hart executes a propulsive intro with a wide array of technique. Then with a palpable swing uptick, Cowell’s run is a combination of mind-bending speed and dexterity. Fortune and Harper enter a complex, freewheeling dialogue that is captivating. It maintains the feel of a live performance. Side D concludes with one track, “Awakenings”. It begins with a solo by Fortune that is is tender with just the right touch of vibrato. As the full quintet regroups, there is a melodic flow with catchy key changes. Fortune solos again with emotion, and Cowell constructs yet another lyrical run. Harper brings his customary brawny approach to his time in the spotlight. All of the musical elements connect.
Sonny Fortune – Great Friends is an excellent album. It would be a valuable addition to any jazz collection.
Side A: Cal Massey; It’s Not True, Simply Because You Can’t Believe It; Thoughts
Side B: Equipoise; Synapse
Side C: East Harlem Nostalgia; Insight
Side D: Awakenings.