At the end of each month I anticipate the arrival of Agent Millions, a man or woman of mystery who turns up at the door of the winner of the jackpot prize on the Premium Bonds. Like Diana Ross, I’m still waiting. This month I had already decided how and where I would be celebrating. Pharoah Sanders is playing a short residency on his home turf at Yoshi’s in Oakland, which lies just across the bay from San Francisco. Oh well! I won’t be funding it from the Bonds- but there is still another remaining chance via the lottery!
The staggering thing is that tickets are still available for 5 performances and they only cost £19.90 each. How can this be? Pharoah is a genius, a master of his chosen tool. He can find half-tones and sounds that are hidden away and incorporate them to extend the range of an instrument that even within its standard tonal range resonates with the soul.
I have been wondering for years how it is that one of the remaining greats who is still capable of playing a storming set is not celebrated and is eclipsed by a multitude of lesser talents.
I’ve decided to apportion blame. It’s YOUR fault, or at least those of you who haven’t yet begun to explore Pharoah’s music.
The first Pharoah Sanders I bought was Africa and that’s the one that we will take a spin through here. The eagle-eyed will note that I have updated the picture of the CD cover, which Pharoah kindly signed for me when he played at Ronnie Scott’s on 9 July 2016.
I picked up my CD copy in New York on a visit in the early 90’s. As I was buying on the strength of the track You’ve Got to Have Freedom, which I’d heard via the radio or in a club, I picked up the first set I saw that featured it. What I didn’t realises at the time was that the version on Africa is not the original (which actually appears on Journey to The One, an album recorded in 1980). Both are great, though differing takes. However, it is the visceral free blowing version from Africa that I listen to most often. I can’t hear the honking, shrieking tones that Pharoah deploys at the start of this performance without forming a mental image of a large crane like wading bird being suddenly startled during its early morning feed and crying out its alarm all to all near and far. Here’s a chance to create your own image, courtesy of Darrin Germany on YouTube:-
I wonder what you made of this, especially if it is the first time you’ve heard it! John Hicks piano is very special too.
Albert Ayler famously proclaimed:- “Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost.” Of that divine trinity, Pharoah is the sole survivor. John Coltrane recognised Pharoah’s talents in the mid- 1960’s and recorded with him. Over the years Pharoah has recorded his own versions of many pieces from his great mentor’s songbook. The second track here is Naima, one of many beautiful slower paced tunes composed by Trane. Pharoah plays with great sensitivity and actually adds something of his own here too.
Origin has a great drum sound, more wonderful piano and a demonstration of mastery of the full range (and beyond, with half-tones and overblowing) of his tenor from Pharoah. Two ballads, Speak Low and After The Morning follow. The title track Africa, is an Pharoah Sanders original- not a revision of John Coltrane’s track which shares the same name. It starts as a great call and response chant, embroidered by Pharoah playing, largely in the higher register of his tenor. This gives way to a second phase, initially with lyrical playing from Pharoah, which then heads for the stars, set up by great bass playing from Curtis Lundy.
Heart to Heart is a delightful ballad while set closer, Duo, is a remorseless duet (which could be said to frighten the horses a little) between Pharoah and Idris Muhammed, who plays drums very capably throughout the entire set.
So there we go, a first visit to Pharoah Sanders here at downwithit.info (which was a pre-Christmas target that I was working to). If you’ve got a few bob to spend after Christmas and haven’t got this set, it is readily available and there really is no excuse.
If anyone can explain why Pharoah Sanders is not yet commonly rated with the greats, please let us know. Could it be his beard? Or his name? Perhaps it’s his age- just a bit younger than the greats of the 60’s? Could it be his choice of record labels? Could it be critics who damn with the faintest of praise and suggest that he is a saxophonist obscured by Coltrane’s mighty shadow. Whatever it is, 1t is certainly not his playing. So, let’s start right here and put that right. Of course, if you are in Oakland from 3-5 January 2014, remember downwithit.info said Yoshi’s is where its at. I will definitely get myself there one day soon too! All being well, we will see Pharoah back in the UK again in 2014 and I might see you at one of his gigs.
The band etc:- Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax); John Hicks (piano); Curtis Lundy (bass); Idris Muhammed (drums). Recorded March 11 1987 by Max Bolleman at Studio 44, Monster (sic?), Holland Produced by Wim Wight. Sleeve Notes: Kevin Sleeve Design: Erik Vos. Released as Timeless CDSJP 253.
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