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Evidence Releases Three Long-Overdue Jazz Gems by Pharoah Sanders


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Pharoah is a man of large spiritual reservoir. He's always trying to reach out to truth. He's trying to allow his spiritual self to be his guide. He's dealing, among other things, in energy, in integrity, in essences. I so much like the strength of his playing. Furthermore, he is one of the innovators, and it's been my pleasure and privilege that he's been willing to help me.
—John Coltrane
From the 1995-2003 archive: This article first appeared at All About Jazz in May 1999.

Ferrell Sanders came out of Little Rock, Arkansas and hooked up with Mr. Herman "Sonny" Blount, who preferred to be known as Sun Ra and dubbed Sanders "Pharoah." A little later a guy named Coltrane asked Pharoah to join his quintet, and the jazz world at large was introduced to the man one reviewer referred to as "the torch-mouthed screamer of the reeds." In those days he gained fame and notoriety for adding a tenor sound that seemed truly not of this world to blazing Coltrane recordings including Meditations, Live in Seattle, Ascension, Kulu Se Mama, and Live at the Village Vanguard Again.

At the same time he began to record a series of solo albums for Impulse! which contained the same ferocity but also a big round-toned gentleness, a heart-of-gold beneath the gruffness, that few might have imagined was there. Yet those albums followed a little-known ESP release, Pharoah's First, on which the putative screamer explored Ornetteian regions of endless melody. The Impulse! albums, particularly Tauhid, Karma, Jewels of Thought, and Summun Bukmun Umyun, contained moments on their long tracks that were simply gorgeous. On sprawling, 20-minute-plus, meditative pieces like "Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt," "The Creator Has a Master Plan," "Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah," "Summun, Bukmun, Umyun," and "Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord," Sanders laid the groundwork for what is now known as "world music," blending rain-forest percussion and flutes with his unique brand of fiery lyricism.

After leaving Impulse! in the mid-Seventies, Sanders struck out in a new direction, returning to more conventional jazz forms and developing his lyrical side while integrating his passionate multiphonic attack into a more comprehensive and versatile approach. He made a number of albums on which his tone is positively unrivaled among tenormen in its beauty and mutability: Journey to the One, Rejoice, Heart is a Melody, Shukuru, A Prayer Before Dawn, and Crescent with Love, and more. These have been reissued by Evidence, and they're a gift to everyone who loves great music. Pharoah's playing is more beautiful than ever, and he moves from straight-ahead acoustic numbers to gorgeous ballads to modal workouts with fluent ease.

More recently Sanders has recorded a few noteworthy albums in collaboration with others, including the beguiling Trance of Seven Colors with Maleem Mahmoud Ghania and Solomon's Daughter with Franklin Kiermyer. His solo efforts have sometimes headed in the direction of electric funk, somewhat obscuring his great tenor sound; but when you can hear Pharoah, no one sounds better.



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