Sonny Fortune, Billy Harper, Stanley Cowell, Reggie Workman, & Billy Hart - Great Friends (2LP)

Sonny Fortune, Billy Harper, Stanley Cowell, Reggie Workman, & Billy Hart - Great Friends (2LP)

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Sonny Fortune – alto saxophone

Billy Harper – tenor saxophone

Stanley Cowell – piano [click here to see more vinyl featuring Stanley Cowell]

Reggie Workman – bass

Billy Hart – drums


2LPs, standard sleeve

Original analog Master tape : YES

Heavy Press : 180g

Record color : Black

Speed : 33 RPM

Size : 12'’



Record Press : unspecified

Label : Pure Pleasure

Original Label : Black & Blue

Recorded July 7th 1986 at Sysmo studio, Paris by Dominique Samarcq

Re-mastering by Cicely Baston at Alchemy/Air Mastering

Originally released in 1987

Reissued in October 2022



Side A:

  1. Cal Massey
  2. It Is Not True, Simply Because You Cannot Believe It
  3. Thoughts

Side B:

  1. Equipoise
  2. Synapse

Side C:

  1. East Harlem Nostalgia
  2. Insight

Side D:

  1. Awakening



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.”  Robbie Gerson, Audiophile Audition, February 2022


“Such Great Friends, recorded way back in 1983 featured a quartet led by pianist Stanley Cowell and was perhaps a precursor to this reissue of a slightly later but similarly titled album Great Friends. Great Friends is a 1986 date featuring the same quartet with the addition of Sonny Fortune on sax. It was recorded hot on the heels of an international tour by the quintet; they’ve certainly captured the energy of a top-notch live event here. Originally released only in Europe on the Black and Blue label it was recorded at Sysmo Studio in Paris on July 7th 1986. Drummer Billy Hart got this band back together with the addition of Fortune for a Japanese tour promoter. There’s remarkably little evidence of any hierarchy on the album’s eight tunes with each band member contributing compositions, apart from Hart who says of this, “the only two writers in the group who haven’t written standards are me and Reggie, and we’re trying to push the envelope”.

‘Cal Massey’, the album’s opener, is a Cowell composition and tribute to the titular American musician and activist. An earlier version of it also appeared on Clifford Jordan’s 1973 record Glass Bead Games. It begins with Cowell’s distinctive style played with stunning precision and breakneck speed. There’s a chant-like sax motif from Harper before he soars away in full Coltrane mode. Workman’s nimble bass detailing allows Cowell to dance above this before Fortune takes the next solo. More lithe bass work and a drum assault from Hart come before Cowell’s piano theme returns. This is all packed tightly into three and a half minutes, it’s quite an opening.

‘Is It Not True, Simply Because You Cannot Believe It?’ I spent a moment or two trying to unpick the title as Hart’s drum intro led into the second track. The horns work up a unified theme as Workman gives it some heavy-duty treatment on the bass; further embellishments from Hart get Harper in a supremely spiritual mood before Cowell’s presence softens it somewhat. Workman adds further depth with a series of subterranean thuds before the saxes get back to the main theme. It fades out but I guess they could keep this going all night.

Personally, I can’t get enough of Stanley Cowell at the moment, his sound is really speaking to me. I’ve heard him on other people’s records without really listening, so it’s great to discover another version of his composition ‘Equipoise’. Its yearning theme is given the added benefit of an up-close and personal bass solo from Workman, the vibrations of which really work their way around the nervous system.

‘East Harlem Nostalgia’ and ‘Insight’ somehow form a less structured pair; the precision of the earlier tracks is dismantled and falls away in favour of a more meandering improvisation. ‘Insight’ has its moments but sounds more like an extended jam; this nomadic approach doesn’t last and the album springs back to life for Fortune’s tune ‘Awakening’. His solo shines a blindingly bright light and later he sounds like he’s playing the syllables of the word ‘awakening’. The fuller sound of the earlier tunes is back with Cowell right on top, it’s a great return.

This fascinating and worthwhile reissue is a valuable document of these musicians’ output from the 1980s. Now it’s time for me to go back to ‘East Harlem Nostalgia’. Maybe it’s just a tune that needs a bit more work on the part of the listener.” James Read, UK Vibe, January 2022


“Great Friends is an artifact. Recorded on July 7, 1986, at Sysmo Studio in Paris, it is the only recorded output of the aggregation that included alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune, tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, Stanley Cowell at the piano, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Billy Hart. Until this reissue on the Pennsylvania indie Evidence Music, Great Friends was only available in Europe, on the French label Black & Blue. While led by the bristling tones of Fortune's alto, the recording gives equal time to each musician, allowing its titular egalitarianism to color each of the eight tracks included. Workman's bass solos on Stanley Cowell's "Equipoise" and his own "Synapse," in particular, reveal the clear lines of communication that define this recording. "Equipoise" as a whole is the standout track here; plaintive keys are matched by an urgent, slowly building rhythm that flirts with the saxophone and bass solos, never cresting into the pop crescendo that always seems to lurk just beyond the solo. Billy Harper's "Insight" lets drummer Billy Hart solo for almost a minute before opening up into an incredible interplayed solo between Fortune and Harper. Including as it does some of the fastest playing of the session, "Insight" illustrates the comfortable improvisation between the players. This recording occurred immediately after a European tour, and includes none of the sterility of a studio situation. Fortune, Harper, Cowell, Workman, and Hart hit on all cylinders throughout, often approximating what it must have been like to see these great friends at one of those smoky European clubs.” AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus


Ratings :

AllMusic : 4.5 / 5 ; Discogs : 4.43 / 5 ; Audiophile Audition : 4.5 / 5

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