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
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.