Category Archives: Pharoah Sanders

Classic Albums on in 2014


Happy New Year to all visitors, new and old. Here’s my 100th post on downwithit.

I still have an unfinished task from 2014 which is to look back at all the classic sets that I reviewed here in 2014. By classic I mean anything other than a new release so there are one or two sets from the present millennium included here. A quick count indicates that I wrote about 26 of these albums in 2014, so I think I can conclude that I wasn’t idle, especially given that I also wrote about a number of contemporary sets and offered up some live reviews.

What follows may be a bit of a trudge through a list, but I have linked to all the reviews and if any catch your interest, please click and take a look.

On NYD 2014 I started with a bang by taking a look at John Coltrane’s Blue Train, one of my all-time favorites that I urged everyone to obtain and listen to if they hadn’t done so already.

This was followed up by Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder and a track that inspired numerous imitations.

My January postings dipped into dinner jazz in the form of Grover Washington Jr’s All The King’s Horses and British hard bop from the 1980’s UK jazz revival via Tommy Chase and Groove Merchant.

Thoughts of Tommy Chase led into fresh territory and I decided to devote some time to exploring the current scene, which was something that I really enjoyed during the course of 2014. If you want a recap of the newly released albums that I reviewed last year, they can be found here and my trawl of live performances is referred to here. I’m not sure if my ramblings have encouraged the purchase of a single album or attendance at any gigs but if they have, please leave a comment and let me know.

I wrote five reviews in February 2014 opening with Horace Parlan’s piano trio set Movin’ And Groovin’. I followed this up with Johnny Griffin’s Big Soul Band. I wavered about posting on that one because I thought that it was something of a departure from the classic small band context and that it would not fit- but it seemed to be OK and remains a popular review according to my stats.

Fred Jackson’s great Hootin”N Tootin’ was next up. At the time, I checked Wikipedia which did not give a date of death. Hopefully Fred still is with us and is enjoying a peaceful retirement at the grand age of 85 years old. If anybody knows more, please tell us.

A further less well-known Blue Note set, John Jenkins With Kenny Burrell was placed in the spotlight, before I took a look at Thembi by my favourite living saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders.

March 2014 saw me take an overdue look at Yusef Lateef (more to come in 2015) and Jazz Mood, his first set as a leader from 1957. The Cats, a fine session featuring John Coltrane followed and I made my first visit to a Grant Green recording on these pages with Grant’s First Stand.

In April, I brought news a a real gem: Heavy Sounds by Elvin Jones and Richard Davis, another set to listen to even if you have to beg steal or borrow. A slow journey north up the motorway system led me to grapple with Bobby Hutcherson’s Happenings. The same trip north gave me time to take a look at The Hot Club Of San Francisco’s Veronica and I got hold of a copy of Jimmy Smith’s lacklustre a less then incredible Softly As A Summer Breeze.

In May Sonny Clark’s Sonny Clark Trio was followed by another Sonny in the form of Sonny Rollins On Impulse, which sounds like a compilation album but isn’t. Later in the month, my local second-hand record store yielded up a copy of John Coltrane’s Ole.

I took another look at Grant Green with his lesser known Iron City, featuring a strong version of Hi-Heeled Sneakers, before returning to Blue Note and Harold Vick’s Steppin’ Out and later in September with Joe Henderson and Inner Urge.

I took the view that Archie Shepp and Dollar Brand’s Duet was slightly spoiled by Shepp’s poor sax technique on a couple of tracks, but I enjoyed Hank Mobley’s great Roll Call, Grant Green’s Green Street and Freddie Hubbard’s Ready For Freddie.

2014 was the year in which a bit of research yielded some more answers about Freddie Roach’s later years and I shelled out for a first pressing of All That’s Good which turned out to be much better than a shocking review suggested it would be.

I’ve already got a the first few reviews for 2015 in mind, so please come back soon and see what I’ve been listening to and remember that comments are most welcome.

One New Year’s Resolution– the quality of the photography at downwithit must improve. No excuses!

Likes(2)Dislikes(0) Contemporary Set of The Year 2014

Occasionally, opinionated people come out with ill-formed assertions. They say: ‘Jazz is dead’, or ‘There’s nothing new to hear’. The party line on this is that they are not trying hard enough. They might be too scared or blinkered but one way or another they need to do a bit of work and, at the very least test their opinion against the market. That’s what I did this year, after listening to an excellent recent set from 2012 by RipRap, and I’m delighted to present our first album of the year, from a truncated crop of eight new sets.

These are the new recordings I wrote about. Each of them was issued in 2014 for the first time and all were recorded, either this year or in 2013. You can visit my review by clicking on the red titles.

Robin McKelle- Heart Of Memphis. March 2014. The only vocal set in this list- but what a wonderful soul voice she has. She has been concentrating on the French market in 2014 and I hope we will get to see her in London again sometime soon.

Polar Bear- In Each And Every One. May 2014. Electronica infused jazz. A brave set, justifiably on the Mercury Awards list.

Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard. June 2014. This trio led by guitar virtuoso Ribot go intense and free on a set featuring Coltrane and Albert Ayler tunes, but with a couple of ballads as respite.

Dylan Howe- Subterranean, New Designs On Bowie’s Berlin. July 2014. A labour of love brought to us via Kickstarter crowdfunding. Bowie’s instrumentals sound wonderful in this context. An unrushed, wonderfully executed set featuring some excellent musicianship and arrangements.

Blacktop- #One. August 2014. Disappointing Orphy Robinson and Pat Thomas project featuring Steve Williamson on sax. Hopefully there’s better to come from this source next year.

Pharaoh Sanders- Spiral Mercury. October 2014 (1). More of an ensemble piece than an album dominated by Pharoah but it brought a taste of a hot night in Lisbon and is worth seeking out if you like this great saxophonist.

GoGo Penguin- V2.0 October 2014 (2). A light piano led set which was also on the Mercury shortlist but was slighter and less adventurous than Polar Bear.

Neil Cowley Trio- Touch And Flee. November 2014. Enjoyable piano trio- a good listen from a band to watch, with even better things expected.

And the first Contemporary Set Of The Year 2014 is…


…Dylan Howe- Subterranean.

If I could only grab two others from a burning room they would be-
Marc Ribot Trio Live At Village Vanguard
Polar Bear- In Each And Every One

I’m delighted with this crop of releases from artists, many of whom were new to me at the start of 2014.

Before Christmas 2014, I will be looking back over the older sets that I’ve brought to you this year in an on the shoulders of giants / dead Jazzer’s shoes posting. I’ll also be reflecting on the handful of gigs that I’ve attended- not such a bad list, come to think of it! In the meantime, why not use the comments section to tell us about your new album of the year, especially if it is one of the many that I’ve overlooked.


Spiral Mercury: Pharoah Sanders

Pharoah S Spiral Mercury

My apologies for being a little tardy in writing about my latest contemporary recording.

This live performance, recorded in August 2013, is the latest release by Pharoah Sanders. It involves him playing as part of Rob Mazurek’s Chicago / São Paulo Underground ensemble. Spiral Mercury captures half of a live set and I’ve yet to listen to the other tranche which is release as Primative Jupiter– which I’ll be ordering before the weekend is out. The compositions on both sets are all by Rob Mazurek, so these albums don’t feature Pharoah’s own repertoire. However, this may have its own unexpected bounty because it allows us to listen to how Pharoah works in a live setting with material that is, presumably, relatively new to him.

I’ve been living with it for over a month now and it is proving a bit of a challenge to write about. Initially I thought of it as a set led by Pharoah and that hasn’t been helpful to my efforts to capture a flavour of it, as it is more of a collective effort featuring the great saxophonist both as a soloist but mainly as part of a larger whole.

The set also features Chad Taylor who we last met as a part of The Marc Ribot Trio on his Live At The Village Vanguard release which I took a look at here in early June this year.

The recording took place in one of my favourite settings. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is located in Lisbon, a city I love to visit. It combines superb indoor and outdoor performance spaces with a unique, world-class collection of paintings and other objects de art put together by a very interesting man (read about him here), who was known as ‘Mr Five Percent’, because that was the perpetual retainer he insisted on for using his expertise to broker the formation of several of the great oil companies including Royal Dutch / Shell. His extreme wealth (a Bill Gates of his time) allowed his team of experts the freedom to scour the world for the very best available examples of anything that he wanted. He insisted on ‘nothing but the best!’ I’ve steered clear of my love of football here at downwithit but suffice to say, his motto is written on my heart. I’d nominate the late Mr Calouste Gulbenkian (d.1955) as a dinner guest, as his take on the first half of the last century and any candid asides would be priceless.

Back to Pharoah and the boys though. It’s time to publish, so here goes!

Cna Toom opens the set. Spaceage synthesiser meanderings beg the question that a Sun Ra session is on the system. A repeated bass loop provides a reference point for free improvisation. A contemplative second phase changes the soundscape after ten minutes. A drum and bass led title track,Spiral Mercury, follows and is reminiscent of Mingus on The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady.

Blue Sparks From Her opens with an incisive trumpet which leads us into a soundscape shaped by synthesised keyboards and then a repeated melodic pattern which Pharoah growls at with his tenor for a while. The track takes on a brief trance-like quality before the horns solo freestyle over a percussion base.

Asasumamehn is a dreamy soundscape embroidered around what I assume to be an mbira (African Thumb Piano). It works well in context providing a peaceful phase amidst more complex and demanding tracks.

Pigeon commences as a somewhat abstract piece before the percussionists and bass impose a strong rhythmic discipline, with Pharoah hidden in the background of the mix.

Jagoda’s Dream would not sound at all out of place on the Dylan Howe Subterraneans set that you can read about here

Finally, The Ghost Zoo is another abstract piece of free improvisation over electronica that does not work wonderfully well, and is somewhat void of a purpose, to my ears, until Pharoah finally gets space for a lyrical solo as the piece draws towards its conclusion.

Although the following lengthy YouTube film was not recorded in Lisbon, it features the same lineup and starts off with some wonderful playing from Pharoah.

To pay either click on or touch the arrow.

It’s great to know that our esteemed elder, Pharoah Sanders is still playing in an extremely adventurous way that challenges the way we we listen. If you are a newcomer to this hero you may want to start somewhere else (perhaps with Africa, which I look at here. However, make sure you catch this great saxophonist live soon!)

The band etc:- Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax, voice); Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics, flute, voice); Guilherme Granado (synths, samples, percussion, voice); Mauricio Takara (cavaquinho, percussion, electronics); Matthew Lux (electric bass); Chad Taylor (drums, mbira).  Produced: Rob Mazurek. Recorded 11 August 2013.  Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Design & Artwork: Pedro Costa /Trem Azul.  Liner photo: Nuno Martins.  Issued as Clean Feed CF301CD.

As this recording may be very difficult to find otherwise you are probably best advised to buy it directly from Clean Feed’s website, which you can access here. Please note, this is a not for profit site and I do not benefit financially from providing this link.


Pharoah Sanders live at The New Orleans Jazz Festival 2014

An old favourite, Pharoah Sanders was in action again last weekend at the 2014 New Orleans Jazz Festival. The performance on Friday 2nd May was witnessed by Times-Picayune journalist, Chris Waddington who wrote:-

As for Sanders, his evident frailties seemed to fall away whenever he picked up his horn. Still possessed of a vast, canyonlike sound, rich in overtones, he put it at the service of a dignified, spiritual music that proved funky enough to keep the crowd to its feet for much of the show. And Sanders hasn’t forgotten his expressionist youth, peppering his slowly evolving modal solos with upper register squeals and multiphonic honks that flashed like lightning amid the towering clouds.

The reviewer added further special praise for Marlon Jordan, a New Orleans trumpet player who joined Pharoah’s regular musicians for the show. With that endorsement, obviously Jordan’s is a horn to listen out for, although as the wiki link here points out, he’s been about for some time- downwithit has put on the ‘slow out of the blocks’ hat of shame for the rest of the evening!

You can read this excellent review in full here. There are also some great photos from the performance there too. As the closest I’ve been to New Orleans is through viewings of the excellent HBO series Treme, it’s great to have found this direct line to news from this great jazz city and I’ve got a new bookmark for my browser.


Thembi: Pharoah Sanders


The recorded music that I write about here at downwithit Is a mixture of old favourite albums, some of which I’ve lived with for years and other sets that are much newer to my ears. This set, Thembi by Pharoah Sanders only came into my possession less than 24 hours ago.

Regular readers may have read my comments on Pharoah’s Africa here. I’ve been listening to his later albums for over 20 years now and I’ve seen this amazing performer live on a number of occasions, but for a variety of reasons I’ve not heard much of his earlier work on the Impulse label. I was put off in the case of Thembi by the cover portrait (a very poor excuse indeed). I am not very taken by Pharoah’s hat, tunic or unusual choice of instrument. How fickle and foolish can I get?After all, unusual hat choices have not stopped me listening to Monk. And I don’t suppose Pharoah would be very impressed by the clothes I chose and wore as the 1970’s progressed.

I can reveal that my fashion-led prejudice against Thembi has been exploded.

Thembi was Pharoah Sander’s 7th release and his 5th on Impulse. Some critics have noted a move away from muscular and strident free jazz on this set and have commented unfavourably on a record which Steve Huey (AllMusic) describes as being all over the map. We shall see.

The first track Astral Travelling is a gentle Lonnie Liston Smith composition. It is brought to you here on YouTube courtesy of Praguedive:-

To listen, touch or click on the arrow.

The stereo sound is most engaging with a myriad of percussion instruments adding texture and teasing the ears. I know little about studios and recording but I suspect that full use was made of the facilities for multi-tracking and over-dubbing available at The Record Plant in Los Angeles (tracks 1-3) and it’s sister Record Plant in New York City (tracks 4-6).

Red, Black & Green starts out with a minute of cacophony, which led to an unfavourable comparison to a new vacuum cleaner in my household. It soon resolves into a soundscape, albeit one overlaid with some challenging sounds, before entering the sombre yet beautiful territory that John Coltrane explored on the brief and stunning Alabama.

The title track Thembi returns to melody and light multi-layered percussion. It is a self-penned composition that charts the course that Pharoah would follow on his later albums (so much so that I just checked the six that were close at hand to see if this track had been revisited in later years. It had but only in kind).

Love offers bass player Cecil McBee a solo performance- another of Thembi’s soundscape for quiet reflection. It is the first of the three New York tracks, recorded in January 1971, 6 weeks after the LA session, and cuts into Morning Prayer. Lonnie Liston Smith’s piano is superb, on a par with that of Pharoah’s later and longstanding pianist, John Hicks. This, in turn, gives way to Bailophone Dance, a splendid closer which shows that Pharoah was listening and drawing on African music.

So there we have it, Pharoah Sanders Thembi. I should have listened to and acted on the wisdom of Bo Diddley:-
You can’t judge an apple by looking at the tree.
You can’t judge honey by looking at the bee.
You can’t judge a daughter by looking at the mother.
You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover!

Or, evidently, a Pharoah Sanders album! It needn’t have feared the outmost extremities of free jazz because they are not here. Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I have turned this around from shop to your desktop in less than 24 hours.

The band:
Tracks 1-3: Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Soprano saxophones, bells, percussion); Michael White (Violin, percussion); Lonnie Liston Smith (Piano, electric piano, claves, percussion); Cecil McBee (Bass, percussion); Clifford Jarvis (Drums, percussion); James Jordan (Ring Cymbals track 3).
Tracks 4-6: Pharoah Sanders (Tenor and Soprano saxophones, Alto flute, brass bells, percussion etc); Lonnie Liston Smith (Piano, percussion, shouts); Cecil McBee (Bass, Bird effects); Roy Haynes (Drums); Chief Bey, Majid Shabazz, Anthony Wiles & Nat Bettis (African percussion). Recorded: Tracks 1-3: 25 November 1970: The Record Plant Los Angeles. Tracks 1-6: 12 January 1971: The Record Plant, New York City. Produced: Ed Michel & Bill Scymczyk. Recording engineer: Bill Scymczyk. Cover notes: Keorapetse Kgositsile. Originally issued as Impulse AS9206.


Pharoah Sanders Live at Yoshi’s: 3rd January 2014

A couple of recent posts here concerned the great Pharoah Sanders, saxophonist supreme.

I wrote about his upcoming New Year gigs at Yoshi’s in Oakland CA and how I would have liked to have been there.

No surprises. I didn’t win the UK Lottery and Agent Millions from the Premium Bonds didn’t knock on my door. So I didn’t get there- but what better way to while away a lunch break in Brixton than by googling to see if there were any reviews. I found this one:-

Pharoah Sanders Live at Yoshi’s 3 January 2014

I think you will agree it is a great endorsement from a newcomer to Pharoah’s music. Well played Dakin Hardwick for going to the gig with an adventurous spirit! I wish I had been there too.


The Christmas Song: Pharoah Sanders

Happy Christmas everybody and thanks for dropping by. From

Pharoah Sanders adopts a light touch for his version of Nat King Cole’s classic (penned by Mel Torme and Robert Wells), brought here from YouTube courtesy of Peter W. Bosse. This is the closing track of Pharoah’s A Prayer Before Dawn set from 1987.

Click on or touch arrow to play the song.

Such a beautiful and seasonal ballad. Make it your business to try to see Pharoah live in 2014 if he appears at a venue near you!

The band etc: Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone); Bill Henderson (piano, synthesizer); John Hicks (piano); William Henderson (Kurzweil synthesizer); Alvin Queen (drums). September 1987 Recorded at Hyde Street Studios, San Francisco. Produced by Pharoah Sanders assisted by Allen Pittman and Mark Needham. Cover design: Tami Needham. Cover Photograph Richard Blair. Released as: Theresa TRCD 127

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Africa: Pharoah Sanders

Pharoah Africa signed

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 (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 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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