Monthly Archives: March 2015

Tauhid: Pharoah Sanders

IMG_1376

Time for another look at a Pharoah Sanders set. In late November 1966, Pharoah was ready to lead the first Impulse session to go out under his own name and Tauhid was the result. Having already come to notice alongside John Coltrane, where his tenor saxophone added heat and fire he was in the driving seat. What were listeners to experience on hearing his first album for what I’m tempted to refer to as the label that enabled?

Upper and Lower Egypt represents Pharoah’s attempts to create an image of how his extensive reading about that part of the world made him feel and the resonances that it created in him. The slower portentous Upper Egypt introduction gives way to a repetition of the theme that is very close to the later You’ve Got To Have Freedom. We are some 12 minutes into the piece before Pharoah’s tenor takes pride of place, sounding as though he wants to blow it apart. A brief scat vocal follows

Henry Grimes, who we met playing alongside Marc Ribot here, adds double bass throughout and a very impressive contribution he makes too!

Japan is a delightful short tune that Pharoah wrote While reflecting on a trip that he took there with John Coltrane in the summer of 1966. There’s a bit of improvised vocalise and it is enjoyable.

The final suite was written as three individual pieces which flowed together when recorded. Sanders plays alto saxophone on Aum, which features a series of scales and phrases played extremely fast in a manner reminiscent of Coltrane’s sheets of sound. The sleeve notes record how for Pharoah, the word holds a kind of magical quality and:- ‘It means God. It means peace. It means the beginning of things.’ Sanders was certainly aiming for something miles away from easy melody when he started to blow on this and Grimes adds to the challenging cacophony with sharp notes he finds and plucks from his four strings.

I assume the transformation into the Venus section is the point where we return to conventional tune and melody. Venus was written with Sanders star sign in mind, as was Capricorn Rising which, he informs us, is also part of his horoscope. It is both sweet and sour, seemingly without form but improvised around a beautiful tune. If a tune can frighten the horses while soothing the savage breast it is this one.

A bass passage (coda?) leads us into Capricorn Rising. This piece is an angry sounding, instrument testing taster for the lyricism which came to the fore in Phroah’s playing on his much later A Prayer Before Dawn set (which we will visit at some stage).

Tauhid is an album where Pharoah doesn’t seek to hog the limelight and where he sought to convey feelings and impressions. He speaks about what he is trying to do: ‘…it’s not that I’m trying to scream on my horn. I’m just trying to put all my feelings into the horn. And when you do that the notes go away’. So Tauhid is not an album of dinner jazz or one for a first date. Those chained to a classical sense of what is musical and what isn’t will run away making dismissive comments, but the open-minded will reap rich rewards here. Why not give it a try courtesy of YouTube:-

To play, touch or click on the arrow

The band:
Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Alto saxophones, Piccolo, Voice); Sonny Sharrock (Guitar); Dave Burrell (Piano); Henry Grimes (Bass); Roger Blank (Drums); Nat Bettis (Percussion). Recorded: 15 November 1966. Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ. Produced: Bob Thiele. Recording engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover notes: Nat Hentoff. Cover photography: Charles Stewart. Originally issued in 1967 as Impulse AS9138.

Likes(1)Dislikes(0)

Moon Germs: Joe Farrell

Joe Farrell Moon Germs cover

In late March last year (2014) I posted a comment on London Jazz Collector’s site in response to a piece he had written about an album produced by Creed Taylor here. I was asking if anybody could recommend any Creed Taylor productions that avoided over-orchestration and fellow regular LJC contributor, Eduard Linshalm pointed me in the direction of Joe Farrell’s Moon Germs.

Although I purchased a copy almost immediately, it has taken a year to get round to presenting a consideration of this set here. Over the last year I’ve looked at classic recordings, broadened the site’s scope to look at new releases and also tried to take in a few live performances. Sets like this one, produced in the early 1970’s and veering towards jazz-rock fusion have been overlooked here because I’ve wanted to alternate between classic and contemporary recordings.

So here we go. Great Gorge starts off with a well-crafted tune played on soprano sax over a heavy duty funk background. It then moves on to a post-hard bop improvisation. Herbie Hancock delivers a fast, dexterous solo on keyboards while Stanley Clarke on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums add an intricate texture in the background, before we return to the tune and it’s funky background in a brief reprise.

The title track, Moon Germs, follows. It has a busy feel with a superb bass line delivered by Stanley Clarke and, to my ears, is vaguely similar to Freedom Jazz Dance. You can hear it courtesy of YouTube:-

To play either click on or touch the arrow

Times Lies is a Chick Corea tune which starts out as a waltz, albeit with a very pronounced bass line, before Farrell pays respects to John Coltrane’s Chasing The Train in his solo.

Bass Folk Song sees Farrell pick up his flute on a tune which has something of a calypso feel to it.

Creed Taylor is in the producers chair and the album was recorded at the Englewood Cliffs Studio with Rudy Van Gelder as engineer.

Moon Germs has been rated as one of the stronger jazz recordings on CTI and, in my opinion, it benefits from just being a quartet recording on which the strings and and orchestration of many other CTI recordings are absent and the production is restrained. Farrell displays a mastery of the soprano saxophone, which is not easy to play well and this recording makes me want to hear what he was like on tenor. Stanley Clarke’s bass playing is at the heart of this set and I will also listen out for other recordings by him. Thanks for the recommendation, Eduard.

Chicago born Joe Farrell recorded four albums on CTI and sat in with many other jazz, fusion and rock artists ranging from Elvin Jones and Charles Mingus to Hall and Oates and Laura Nyro. He was also an early member of Chick Corea’s Return To Forever. He died of a blood disorder in 1986, aged 48.

The band etc.: Joe Farrell (soprano saxophone, flute); Herbie Hancock (piano); Stanley Clarke (bass); Jack DeJohnette (drums). Recorded: 21 November 1972. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Creed Taylor. Engineer: Rudy Van Gelder. Cover photos: Pete Turner. Cover Design: Bob Ciano. Reissue sleeve notes: James Isaacs. Originally issued on CTI in 1973.

Likes(1)Dislikes(0)

Pharoah Sanders live in San Francisco: 12 January 2015

Regular readers may know that Pharoah Sanders is a saxophonist that I enjoy very much.

When checking to see if any UK dates are scheduled (sadly, none listed at present), I came across a recent live review by Gary Vercelli, which you can read here. The author was wondering if 74 year old Pharoah can still perform at a high level. His conclusion is that:-

Pharoah Sanders showed that age is just a number. He still negotiates the chord changes with ease and finesse and inner child is still very much alive!

That’s good news– hopefully we’ll see for ourselves later in 2015.

Likes(4)Dislikes(0)

Pocket Compass: Trish Clowes

Trish Clowes Pocket Compass cover

Just when I was wondering which CD to select as my March contemporary review, I received a copy of this offering from this young British saxophonist. It fits the bill perfectly- although it has been out since November 2014, so I’m not writing about the newest of new releases for you here today.

The set features three tracks recorded with the BBC Concert Orchestra and a further five from a quintet session. Since the quintet tracks were recorded exactly a year ago and this (4th March 2015) is the first birthday for some of them, I have no excuse other than to listen and enjoy immediately.

This is Trish Clowes third album and it is a work which exudes confidence and maturity, with all of the tracks being self-written and arranged. It is adventurous without losing sight of being melodious so let’s have a run through the tracks.

Radiation is the first of the three collaborations with the Concert Orchestra. Starting out with a rich and plaintiff saxophone phrase over a lush orchestral arrangement the tempo first speeds and then alternates featuring great dialogue between guitar, piano, sax and orchestra.

Question Mark is a tone poem that has a decidedly modern feel to it.

Porcupine is jangly and angular without being extreme, culminating in an interesting extended tenor solo from Clowes, which leads into a hard bop accompaniment from the rhythm section

Symphony In Yellow was inspired by an Oscar Wilde poem. The piano playing from Gwilym Simcock is particularly deft and sensitive and Chris Montague paves the way for a short lyrical interlude from Trish Clowes leading to a finale

The BBC Concert Orchestra is back for Balloon, which features the oboe of Lauren Weavers and more fine electric guitar from Montague.

Pfeiffer and the Whales was inspired by a trip that Clowes made to Monterey and Big Sur in California. It is enormously relaxing- the very sort of piece to accompany a short morning meditation for those that are into that, apparently very rewarding, sort of thing. Great stuff.

Wayne’s Waltz is dedicated to Wayne Shorter, following a meeting between the saxophone giant and Clowes. The soprano sax and piano enjoy an exchange before the voice of Calum Gourlay’s bass is heard. This track is currently available on YouTube and you can take a look here:-

To listen click or touch the arrow.

Chorale reunites Clowes with the orchestra. She explains in her brief but informative sleeve notes that she encouraged them to improvise over two chords on this piece, which strikes me as capturing a certain sophisticated London Jazz sound. It is very enjoyable.

The recorded sound is excellent and the production by Curtis Schwartz and Neil Varley (orchestral tracks) captures the instrumentation to fine effect. Two of photographs by Kira Doherty were taken on an atmospheric reach of the Thames in a bit of South-East London that I know really well, but which is getting built up really quickly. An unexpected bonus from this review is the encouragement for me to don my running shoes and get out there again very soon.

Thanks to my industry contact Christine for the review copy of this complex yet accessible set and for introducing me to this great young British talent. She informed me that she had enjoyed a recent performance by ‘…this charming saxophonist’ in London last week. If Chris enjoyed the show that’s a good enough recommendation for me!

The band etc: Trish Clowes (tenor & soprano saxophone); Gwilym Simcock (piano); Chris Montague (electric guitar); Calum Gourlay (double bass); James Maddren (drums). Small band tracks recorded at Curtis Schwartz Studios, W. Sussex on 3 & 4 March 2014. Radiation, Balloon and Chorale recorded at Air Studios, London on 22 January 2014. Produced by Curtis Schwartz and Neil Varley (orchestral tracks). Mixing and mastering by Curtis Schwartz. Photography: Kira Doherty. Issued on Basho Records, SRCD 45-2. November 2014.

Likes(2)Dislikes(0)