With the passing of Pharoah Sanders in September 2022, almost a year ago at the time of writing, and bearing in mind advances in sound-restoration technology, we can anticipate a stream of previously unissued Sanders recordings being released in the years ahead. If this outstanding 2-CD / 2-LP box set is anything to go by, bring it on.
Disc One is a straight reissue of Sanders' oft pirated 1977 album Pharoah (India Navigation), albeit with much improved sound. It was Sanders' first newly recorded release since being dropped by his longtime label Impulse! three years earlier, following a change in corporate ownership. He leads a septet, slimmed down to a quintet on the key track, the longform "Harvest Time."
Disc Two contains two live European performances of "Harvest Time." On these, Sanders leads a quartet, with no overlapping personnel from the studio album. He plays tenor saxophone, no soprano, throughout both albums, plus an assortment of percussion.
Pharoah is a bit of a curate's egg, to put it mildly. The two tracks which take up the second side, "Love Will Find A Way" and "Memories Of Edith Johnson," recorded in August 1976, are, frankly, dire. Sanders' septet features the guitarist Tisziji Munoz and the tracks are feeble attempts at jazz-rock; despite including some meaty broken-note tenor, they are as bad as the most egregious posturing of Miles Davis in that field. (For a consideration of those, read the polemic "Miles Davis & Don Cherry: Which One Is The Grifter?" here). There is nothing intrinsically wrong with jazz rock, far from it, but to succeed it needs to be approached with conviction, and it is clear Sanders' heart was not in it. He was at the time broke. He needed to make some money. In later years, he was distinctly reticent about the album.
Anyway, it was an exercise Sanders abandoned within a few weeks, thank goodness. In September 1976, he was back in the India Navigation studio to record "Harvest Time." The 20:24 track is a strong addition to the strand of spiritual jazz he pioneered with the side-long "Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt" on his own-name Impulse! debut, Tauhid, recorded in 1966. Unlike on that track, however, on which Sanders' tenor enters only in the closing minutes, here he is on mic practically all the time. Munoz is present again, but he is playing in a gentler and more thoughtful manner than before, alongside Sanders' wife Bedria Sanders on harmonium.
The added value of this box set is that it allows us to follow the progress of "Harvest Time" when Sanders took it on the European road in August 1977, with a quartet completed by bassist Hayes Burnett, drummer Clifford Jarvis and pianist Khalid Moss. The first version, from Middelheim, playing time 18:13, has a bouncier beat than the studio recording, and Sanders' tenor, which again is on mic most of the time, is correspondingly more expansive, and also considerably more intense. The second, shorter live version, from Willisau, is delivered even more energetically than at Middelheim. It sounds like an encore.
The discs come with a substantial liner booklet which includes interviews with Bedria Sanders and Tisziji Munoz. Audio quality is great throughout. It all adds up to a stone delight.
Disc 1: Harvest Time; Love Will Find A Way; Memories Of Edith Johnson. Disc 2: Harvest Time Live Version 1 (Middelheim); Harvest Time Live Version 2 (Willisau).
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