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Artist Profiles

Legend of the Pharoah

By Published: December 8, 2004
The Lines company has worked with other composers and musicians, including Zakir Hussain, Bernice Johnson Reagon and oud master Hamza Al Din, so the dancers have had no trouble finding their way through Sanders' scores. The instrumentation in Ocean includes Tibetan bowls, an oud, chanting and a Middle Eastern shawm, while the music for Three Stops From Home involved rich, emotional textures with plenty of strings, according to reviews in the San Francisco Chronicle. "We worked together on ideas, making them clear through music and movement," King explained. "Because they're not different to me. Dancers are musicians and vice versa, musicians are dancers. They're making music with their bodies and musicians have to move to make music."

Faced with the problem of making that music, Sanders found a spiritual approach to the task at hand. "I thought about the dancers before I even got started because I know Alonzo's concept level of ballet," he said. "I thought I needed something where they can make those moves. The music has to be the mood of the dancers instead of what I would normally play. It's like the ancient Egyptians, they played music by their feeling." The ballet opened in 1994 and was such a success that King commissioned Sanders to write music for another work, Three Stops On the Way Home , which premiered in 1997.

Before the Blues , the third score Lines has commissioned, opens at New York University's Skirball Center on January 18th. Though he played the music for Ocean and Three Stops On the Way Home live, scheduling conflicts will prevent Sanders from performing at the shows. There may be another chance to see him play alongside a ballet, though. He was so prolific in composing the latest piece that he wrote enough music for two ballets in the course of writing for one, King said.

On the bandstand, he's been less prolific in recent years, often drawing more attention for sitting out than sitting in. A few years ago, after the release of Save the Children (Verve), Sanders' performance at Alice Tully Hall confounded some critics. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times wrote, "He barely contributed anything to his own concert." Mixed reviews have followed. But the truth is that Sanders, long enamored of African and Eastern influences, has always relied pretty heavily on his rhythm section, allowing them to play more out front than, for example, a player like Sonny Rollins or George Coleman. For Sanders, the music is all that matters and if he doesn't have something to add, he doesn't mind stepping back, even as the leader.

"He doesn't have to prove anything," said Garrett. "If there's something he felt, he'd say it." If last year's performance is any indication, Garrett and Sanders inspire plenty of feeling in one another. As of mid November, they had not yet had the chance to discuss plans for the Iridium sets, but playing by ear didn't seem to be a problem last time. They both simply played what they felt. "Pharoah's the truth," Garrett says. "And I like to be on the same bandstand as what I see as the truth."

Recommended Listening

– John Coltrane - Kulu Se Mama (Impulse!, 1965)

– Pharoah Sanders - Karma (Impulse!, 1969)

– Alice Coltrane - Journey in Satchidananda (Impulse!, 1970)

– Pharoah Sanders - Journey to the One (Theresa-Evidence, 1980)

– Sonny Sharrock - Ask The Ages (Axiom, 1991)

– Franklin Kiermyer - Solomon's Daughter (Evidence, 1994)

Related Link
Pharoah Sanders Fan Site

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