You, me, the music, and me.

Friday, November 11, 2005


Impulse! A-9138 (1966)

If I ever make it down to San Francisco, one of the first places I want to visit is St. John's African Orthodox Church, more commonly known as the Church of John Coltrane. Since 1971, this church has led services in which the main instrument of praise is not a sermon or homily but is Coltrane's music. The congregation views Coltrane as a saint, a man who was put on this earth for a short time to spread God's word through his saxophone.

If Coltrane can be viewed as a Christlike figure, then Pharoah Sanders was one of his most ardent disciples. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Sanders took up the saxophone while still in high school and was soon playing gigs around town with blues legends like Bobby "Blue" Bland and Junior Parker. He eventually moved to New York, where he caught the ear of Coltrane, who asked him to sit in with his band in 1964. Sanders made several recordings with Coltrane and was instantly identifiable by his vocal, screaming sound on the sax.

Tauhid was one of his first recordings as a leader and his first for the Impulse! label, which had released most of Coltrane's more "avant-garde" albums. On the record, Sanders lets the pieces build naturally through the interaction of the band; his tenor sax is not heard until the final minutes of the sidelong "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" (and not at all on the brief "Japan", which instead features a haunting, wordless vocal by Sanders). The percussion of Nat Bettis and drummer Roger Blank is heard prominently on these tracks, lending the music a distinct Eastern feel. The final track is a medley of three pieces and is the closest thing to a "traditional" free jazz freakout; "Aum" features a blistering slide guitar solo* from Sonny Sharrock (who made his recording debut with this album) while "Venus" and "Capricorn Rising" are reflective yet intense ballads that showcase Sanders gritty, wailing technique. Pianist Dave Burrell and bassist Henry Grimes round out the sextet, providing support throughout the band's wilder flights of fancy.

Pharoah Sanders still records and performs today and has grown gracefully into the role of elder statesman of jazz. His tone has become slightly more polished but has lost none of its intensity. To hear him play is to listen to a living apostle, preaching the gospel of Trane.

*(When I bought this album at Taz Records, there was what looked like a tiny nail embedded in the vinyl on this track that I didn't notice right away. When I first played it, it skipped, repeating the same short passage of Sharrock's solo over and over. The skip was so seamless and the music so wild that for a good couple of minutes I didn't realize that the record was skipping, thinking, "Wow, he's really getting into that particular lick!")


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Sanders Rules!


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