Pharoah Sanders, Miles From India, Bobby Previte, Marcia Ball, Whitetree & David Grisman
The Pharoah Sanders Quartet
May 26, 2009
How hard does Pharoah Sanders have to try when emanating a spiritual aura? He appears like a natural sage-figure, ambling onstage in an African print shirt, still sporting his distinctive flat-top hair-sculpture, eyes burning with a deep knowledge of jazz's outer (and inner) realms. His last appearance at Birdland found the tenor man in fairly conventional blowing mode, whilst at other gigs Sanders might be playing up to his revered status amongst the jazz-dance crowd, particularly when touring in the UK. He looks like a man who plays what he wants, when the mood is right.
For this late set on the opening night of a six-day run, Sanders is joined by his long-running pianist William Henderson, along with bassman Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth. They open with "Happy Birthday" variations for Reeves, who's celebrating on this very day, running through a twisting solo before Sanders abruptly disappears out of the back door. It was the same situation last time he played at this club. Sanders delivers a solo, then retires. Could this be because he's an introverted figure, and doesn't want folks staring at his inactivity? Does he have a range of victuals in the dressing room? Is he going for a lie down? Whatever's the case, it's a most disconcerting habit. David Murray has also started to adopt the same behavior of late. The frequent Sanders disappearance is highly distracting because each time his soloing is followed by a piano exploration, or sometimes a bass rumination, there's a distinct feeling of tension over whether Sanders is going to emerge on time for the next theme section. There's a very real sense that the band is playing for time, as if they too are uncertain. Henderson's first solo is not so much a solo as a massively extended rippling action. Maybe the effect is psychological. If Sanders was present, mulling over each contribution, gauging his re-entry, perhaps we'd feel differently.
Next up is "Ole," and Sanders introduces his first soul-wrenching cry of the set. Clearly he's in a suitable state to invoke the free jazz storming that made his reputation. With perfect control, he's honking, wailing and blurting, still playing melodically, but taking his toughened tone to the limit. This is an unexpected development, but very welcome. Farnsworth is primed for action, swapping between hard and fur-balled sticks, cutting to brushes, sometimes in the midst of a phrase. His accents are unexpected, sharply struck with flashing precision, hi-hat flayed then muted, the underside of his tilted snare tickled and scratched. If we thought that Sanders was in an isolationist mood, this is proved to be not so, as he's now clapping and prompting the audience to sing along. By the time he reaches Coltrane's seminal "Giant Steps," towards the set's close, Sanders has elected to remain out front, statuesquely seated at a frontal table. The number moves so fast, and the solos switch so swiftly, that his action might be required at any moment. Sanders enters his second phase of free-blowing, again with a rock-hewn control. Farnsworth's drum solo here is lengthy, but every moment can be savored, as he's constantly introducing imaginative motifs and contrasting patterns. It seems that a Sanders show is subject to the sensitivities of the evening, but following an uncertain beginning, the entire quartet eventually clicks into magisterial form.
Miles From India
May 29, 2009
In May 2008, the Miles From India caravan rolled into New York's Town Hall, presenting a live version of the freshly-released 2-CD project which was viewing the repertoire of Davis from a Subcontinental perspective. The idea was to team some of Miles' old bandmates with a posse of Indian classical players, which wasn't such an alien concept given that the trumpeter had already included such fusions in his multi-faceted music of the late 1960s and early 1970s. That Town Hall show was sometimes hesitant in its unfamiliar construction, made self-conscious by its concert-space setting. This second night of Iridium's run might have a somewhat informal air by comparison, but this roiling looseness is advantageous, recalling how Miles would probably have approached his music back in those untethered dawn-of-fusion days. On the one hand, it sounds like no-one in the band quite knows exactly what's coming next, but on the other mitten, this creates a sense of exciting unpredictability.