Tuesday, October 05, 2004


I've been listening to a lot of Pharoah Sanders lately.

I own Karma, Izipho Zam, Black Unity, Summun, Bukmun, Umyun, Jewels Of Thought, Live At The East (shown above) and last night I bought Thembi. Of the bunch, I think Izipho Zam, Thembi and Live At The East are my favorites, and Karma and Black Unity are the two I play the least often.

(I used to own Tauhid, but sold it some time ago. The same is true of Pharoah's First, his ESP album, which frankly sounds like a Hank Mobley date - nothing against Hank, whose music I frequently enjoy, but if I want that, I'll go to the source. I go to Pharoah for, um, other things.)

And those aren't necessarily the expected things, either. Pharoah's screamin'est moments are also frequently his most tedious, I've found. What I like is the way he assembles a really killin' ensemble, full of African percussion and various chordal instruments (multiple basses, piano, what have you) and lets that ensemble stroll patiently through long modal vamps. When the solos do rise out of the oceans of percussion, it's that much more impressive. The interaction between the two bassists on "Healing Song," from Live At The East, is a perfect example. They circle each other, throbbing and strumming, as the rhythm goes on and on and on, until you're in a trance, floating on pure hypnotized joy.

The same thing happens on "Balance," the second track from Izipho Zam.

(This album is fucking great, and has just recently been reissued on CD in the U.S. in a probably limited edition; by all means snap it up while you can.)

Izipho Zam features one of Pharoah's largest ensembles, including Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Yodelin' Leon Thomas on vocals, plus a tuba player, providing big farting underpinnings as, again, the rhythm section vamps out to the very edge of the universe before locating Pharoah and bringing him in for a lung-busting outburst that almost matches the fire 'n' fury of Sonny's assault on his instrument. (The stuff Sonny plays on the title track is utterly brain-melting, almost Blue Cheer-esque.)

I think Pharoah's records were some of the most interesting to come out of the late 1960s and early 1970s...much more consistent and consistently satisfying than, say, Archie Shepp's contemporaneous output. Even if some are clearly better than others, all the Impulse! (and Impulse!-era; Izipho Zam came out on Strata-East) Sanders albums were created in a similar spirit, mixing ethnic instruments with modal and free jazz and coming up with something beautiful, instantly identifiable and well worth listening to, even 30-plus years later. If you're just starting to head past Coltrane and explore late-60s/early-70s out jazz a little further, these should all be high up on your list.

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