Recorded in 1964, the same year as Gods on Safari, his Sun Ra recording, and months before Ascension, his first with Coltrane, Pharoah's First pictures the legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders at the threshold of his historic and still startling cosmic operettas with John Coltrane. It was originally released on LP as two sidelong jams and has been reissued here as part of the ESP reactivation series with insightful interviews.
Both tracks feature a hard swinging bebop quartet, and while "Seven by Seven shows sparks of the fire to come, "Bethera has Sanders wrestling his horn away from the ghost of Prestige Coltrane. Sanders wastes no time blowing his horn apart on the opener, inspired by percussionist Marvin Pattillo and bassist William Bennett's indomitable drive. Pianist Jane Getz stays out of the way with small, clean chord chimes punctuating off-beats. As a soloist, she runs with the rhythm section and occasionally throws in deliberate Tynerisms. For the group outro, Sanders plays some trademark wail and spasmodic multiphonic roar over the straight-ahead quartet.
The light and bouncy "Bethera keeps Sanders pacing the edges of the repetitive theme. Trumpeter Stan Foster reads it midrange, while Getz elegantly spreads out, voicing chords so tightly with her melody line she suggests chorded lead without immersing both feet.
The interview segments cover tales of struggling in NYC, as well as valuable first person remembrances of the '64 scene. Trane, Dolphy, Sun Ra, Don Cherry, and others sit for portraits, as does Billy Higgins, about whom this gem is offered: "He had so much rhythm he played the knives and forks on the table.
Personnel: Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone;
Stan Foster: trumpet;
Jane Getz: piano;
William Bennett: bass;
Marvin Pattillo: percussion.