Tag Archives: John Hicks

Now is the Time (Live at The Knitting Factory): The Alex Blake Quintet

So here’s a little teaser for the brain cells. We’re looking for the year that this record was made.

Here in the UK we were out of step with our neighbours (the Euro was introduced), there were terrorist incidents in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho (2 killed and over 90 other victims) and Tracey Emin’s bed was displayed as part of her Turner Prize submission.

In the States, a President (Clinton) was impeached but acquitted, a drugs cheat won his first Tour de France and a legal case was brought to shut down Napster file sharing.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose as the French folk have been heard to say.

Prince offers another clue:-
“I was dreamin’ when I wrote this, so sue me if I go too fast
But life is just a party and parties weren’t meant to last.”

I think you’ve probably got it and Prince will confirm:-

“Say say two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time
So tonight I’m gonna party like it’s nineteen ninety-nine.”

It is estimated that in 1999 only 1/5 of the population of the United Kingdom had access to the Internet.

By December 1999 the TriBeCa district of New Yok City was no longer a down at heel home for aspiring artists and musicians. The big money had squeezed most of them out. It was still the location of The Knitting Factory, a celebrated performance venue and it was there that bassist, Alex Blake recorded this fine set with Pharoah Sanders sitting in on tenor saxophone.

As you will guess, it was the prospect of hearing Sanders play live that led me to seek out this recording. Blake was not a musician that I was familiar with but, bearing in mind that a stranger is a potential friend that you have not met yet, I ordered my copy.

So let’s settle back at our table for this performance.

On the Spot opens with a drum prelude before the tune is introduced. It is a close relative of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and it offers a springboard for Pharoah to take off from. In 1999 he was 59 years old and playing with brilliance as the first soloist. John Hicks, Sanders’ regular accompanist sparkles on piano before Victor Jones is given a drum solo.

A further percussion intro leads into The Chief, a second Blake composition. Hicks demonstrates his creativity over a a solid progression with Blake’s bass to the fore. He offers up an impressive solo as the piece moves along briskly with a sense of excitement that still sounds contemporary.

Blake shifts to electric bass for Little Help, a solo based on Lennon and McCartney’s With a Little Help From My Friends. It is novel to hear the bass as the lead guitar and this is a track which is not to be missed and which should be better known than it is.

Blake plays a solo introduction on his acoustic bass (with some vocalisation- omitted from the selection below) to the title track Now is the Time. This is another bustling theme, well suited to an exciting live performance. Hicks entrances and Pharoah offers up a solo played towards the acidic edge of the tenor saxophone. There is also some more very impressive bass from Alex Blake. You can take a listen courtesy of Supajazz on YouTube:-

To play either touch or click on the arrow

Finally, the album closes with Mystery of Love, a tune with a ballad at its heart by Guy Warren, a Ghanaian musician and social activist who was influential through his encouragement of black Americians seeking to make positive links with Africa.

This is the only relatively readily available album led by Alex Blake. He continues to perform in 2017 as a member of Randy Weston’s band. He was born in Pamama in 1951 and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He started his career as a musician with Sun Ra’s Arkestra before playing Fusion with Lenny White and Billy Cobham and playing on recordings by Pharoah Sanders, Yusef Lateef. He also had a lengthy stint with Manhattan Transfer.

Pharoah Sanders and John Hicks sparkle without dominating and since Now is the Time still sounds great my suggestion is that it should be purchased if you come across it.

The band etc.:- Alex Blake (acoustic bass, electric bass track 4, Percussion, vocals); Pharoah Sanders(tenor saxophone); John Hicks (piano); Victor Jones (drums); Neil Clark (percussion); Chris Hunter (additional alto saxophone). Recorded live 6 December 1999 at The Knitting Factory, New York City. Produced by: Alex Blake. Recording Engineers: Peter Katis &Sascha Van Oetzen. Cover photo / booklet: Eric Decker. Art Direction and Design: Rudi Reitberg. Issued in 2000: Bubble Core Records BC030.

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The Christmas Song: Pharoah Sanders

Happy Christmas everybody and thanks for dropping by. From downwithit.info.

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 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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