With Bernard Stollman opening up the ESP vaults, jazz fans find themselves privy to some of jazz's most interesting and eclectic recordings remastered for the first time. Among the initial remasters is one of ESP's first releases, Pharoah's First, recorded in 1964.
This record has always been a thorn in the discography of saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. The playing is solid, but his legendary ripping chops are extremely subdued, making this disc seem out of place. Not to mention the fact that the musicians that Sanders is playing with are bebop players, slapping out bop riffs. At no other time did Sanders ever seek out that sound. Nowhere during his Coltrane apprenticeship did he even hint at bop. The tracks have a long buildup and workout, and he gives pianist Jane Getz and trumpeter Stan Foster room to solo, but their style just is not what Sanders was all about. The record ends up lacking his characteristic tightly honed chaos due to this fact. Fortunately the listener can hear the Sanders to come in some spots, especially on "Seven by Seven. Yet on the second piece, Bertha, the solos by Getz and Foster are far removed from the sound that Sanders is building within the confines he created.
The remaster not only has an incredibly improved sound, it includes insightful interview clips with Sanders talking about his days as a young musician in New York. He also talks about meeting Stollman, Sun Ra, and Coltrane, and playing with the late great innovator Don Cherry.
The record's confines may make it more accessible to listeners who are put off by the genius blazes of Karma, Thembi or Live at the East. True fans of the Sanders style will likely be a bit disappointed. Yet those same fans know that it wasn't until after the death of Coltrane that Sanders truly became his own man, gelling with the A Love Supreme-influenced Karma.
All criticism aside, this is a great album. It helps to understand the young mind of Pharoah Sanders as a bandleader before becoming one of jazz's true alternative forces.
Personnel: Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone;
Stan Foster: trumpet;
Jane Getz: piano;
William Bennett: bass;
Marvin Pattillo: percussion.