Arkansas-born tenor saxophonist
Farrell "Pharoah" Sanders (1940), who had cut his teeth in Oakland (California),
moved to New York in 1962 and joined the groups of Sun Ra (where he got his
nickname) and John Coltrane. His solo career, that had started with
Pharoah Sanders Quintet (october 1964),
aimed at grafting the free-jazz concept onto archetypical
African rhythms and decorating the hybrid with Eastern techniques
(the so called "Nubian space jazz").
The sound was perfected on Tauhid (november 1966), particularly by the
16-minute Upper & Lower Egypt, featuring Henry Grimes on bass,
Dave Burrell on piano,
Sonny Sharrock on guitar and two percussionists.
Distracted by recordings with Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane, Sanders did not
return to his project until
Izipho Zam (january 1969), with Howard Johnson on tuba,
Sirone and Cecil McBee on bass, Lonnie Liston Smith on piano,
and a whole ensemble of percussionists.
The 12-minute Balance highlighted his sense of impressionistic counterpoint, while the 29-minute Izipho Zam was a colossal fresco of abstract dissonance.
Karma (february 1969), with Smith on piano,
Julius Watkins on French horn,
James Spaulding on flute, Reggie Workman on bass,
Ron Carter and Richard Davis on bass, and the usual army of percussionists,
was mainly taken up by the 32-minute The Creator Has A Master Plan,
a sonic excursion that ran the gamut from microscopic timbral exploration
to gargantuan uncontrolled bacchanal.
The line-up was streamlined for Jewels Of Thought (october 1969),
that is basically a piano and reed album against the backdrop of African
percussion. Sanders began to play all sorts of instruments (flutes, clarinets
and percussions), preferring soundpainting over virtuosity. The two suites
represented the two basic forms of Sanders' art:
the 15-minute Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum Allah was a narrative event,
while the 28-minute Sun in Aquarius was a pure delirium of colors.
Summun Bukmun Umyun (july 1970) repeats the same concept but
the 21-minute Summun Bukmun Umyun extends
the harmony thanks to Woody Shaw's trumpet and Gary Bartz's alto, while the
18-minute prayer Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord displays the
spiritual side of Sanders' music.
On the title-track of Thembi (january 1971) it was Michael White's violin that joined Sanders' saxophone and Smith's ubiquitous piano, but the album
was mostly a simpler summary of previous themes.
A much better summary of Sanders' philosophy was represented by
the one 37-minute improvisation of
Black Unity (november 1971), with Marvin Peterson on trumpet, Carlos Alfredo Garnett on tenor and Joe Bonner on piano, Cecil McBee and Stanley Clarke on bass, and "only" three percussionists (notably Norman Connors). Sanders did
not abandon his passion for rhythm, but this time virtuosity mattered too.
Norman Connors was responsible for the stronger funk accents of
Wisdom Through Music (1972), and Elevation (september 1973) leaned towards
a more rational sound, as in the lyrical 18-minute Elevation
and the lively 14-minute The Gathering.
Love in Us All (1973) was evenly split between wild experiment
(To John) and emotional outpour (Love Is Everywhere).
But clearly Sanders was getting softer and softer, bordering on atmospheric
background music with the 20-minute Harvest Time on Pharoah (september 1976), a style that became his standard of reference for the rest of his career.
The Trance Of Seven Colors (june 1994), produced by Bill Laswell, documents a collaboration with gnawa singer Maleem Mahmoud Ghania (also on guimbri and tambourine) and with a large chorus.
Spirits documents a 1998 concert with Hamid Drake (drums) and Adam Rudolph (flute, piano and percussion).
Village Of The Pharoahs, containing
three sessions (december 1971, november 1972 and september 1973),
was only released in 2011.
Africa (march 1987)
featured a quartet with pianist John Hicks and the rhythm section of Curtis Lundy (bass) and Idris Muhammad (drums).
Sanders played on Bill Laswell's
Against Empire (2020).
(recorded between summer 2019 and summer 2020)
contains a 46-minute suite in nine movements performed with Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) on piano, harpsichord, celesta and electronics, and the string section of the London Symphony Orchestra.
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