Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah Sanders, Hamid Drake, Adam Rudolph: Spirits

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Pharoah Sanders, Hamid Drake, Adam Rudolph




Following the death of saxophonist John Coltrane in 1967, two of his band members, pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, aligned themselves to fashion—separately and together—music which became known as "astral jazz." The style foregrounded the African and Asian song forms, and percussion and drone instruments, which John Coltrane had explored during his final years, while favoring lyrical, leisurely improvisations in place of the intense, anguished solos associated with him during the same period.

Sanders' embrace of astral jazz actually preceded John Coltrane's passing. In late 1966, he recorded the first fully formed album in the style, Tauhid (Impulse!, 1967). Alice Coltrane's first astral forays came at the end of the decade, on Ptah, The El Daoud and Journey Into Satchidananda (both Impulse!, 1970), though the astral seed was planted on the earlier A Monastic Trio (Impulse!, 1968); all three albums featured Sanders.

Alice Coltrane never abandoned astral jazz, though she did withdraw from the public eye to concentrate on Indian-based, pantheistic devotional music prior to her return with Translinear Light (Impulse!, 2004), her first commercially released album in 25 years. She passed in 2007.

Sanders, happily, is still in town, and he, too, has never abandoned astral jazz. Even his relatively straight-ahead albums of the 1980s and 1990s—notable among them Africa (Timeless, 1987), Welcome To Love (Timeless, 1990) and Crescent With Love (Evidence, 1992)—have astral resonances.

In 2000, he released the explicitly astral Spirits, recorded live at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1998.

Spirits is stripped-down astral jazz—Sanders is accompanied by percussionists Hamid Drake and Adam Rudoph only—but is no less transporting than those of his albums in the style featuring bigger lineups. For just over an hour, mainly on tenor saxophone, he essays melodic, extended solos rich in his signature multiphonics, occasionally switching to wood flutes or wordless vocals, alongside which Drake and Rudolph weave layers of hand drums and percussion. Providing a further seal of astral authenticity, Rudolph's overtone singing stands in for the tamboura, the Indian drone instrument adopted by Sanders and Alice Coltrane in the early 1970s, and which became emblematic of astral jazz.

The opener, "Sunrise," at 19:12 the longest track on the disc, is centered around Sanders' tenor, Rudolph's thumb piano and overtone singing, and Drake's frame drums. The piece unfolds slowly and gently, and Sanders, in top form here as elsewhere on the album, is transfixing. The tabla-driven "Morning In Soweto" and "The Thousand Petalled Lotus," which follow, are faster and more urgent, with Sanders' tenor taking on a rawer tone. The mood mellows on the flute features "Ancient People" and "Calling To The Luminous Beings," before picking up speed on the bendir-propelled, North African-flavored "Roundhouse." The disc closes with a 5:05 reprise of "Sunrise," having taken in a few brief divertissements along the way.

Spirits is a beautiful album which, despite its trio format, is in the tradition of the recordings Sanders and Alice Coltrane made in the 1970s. (A half dozen of these were reissued in October 2011 in Impulse!'s 2-on-1 series and are reviewed here).

Tracks: Sunrise; Morning In Soweto; The Thousand Petalled Lotus; I And Thou; Uma Lake; Ancient Peoples; Calling To The Luminous Beings; Roundhouse; Molimo; Sunset.

Personnel: Pharoah Sanders: tenor saxophone, vocal, wood flutes, hindehoo; Hamid Drake: trap drums, vocal, daf, tabla, frame drums; Adam Rudolph: congas, djembe, udu, thumb piano, talking drum, bendir, bamboo flute, overtone singing, gong, percussion.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Jos L. Knaepen



comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read Full House Reassessing
Full House
By C. Michael Bailey
January 12, 2018
Read Of Things Not Seen Reassessing
Of Things Not Seen
By C. Michael Bailey
January 8, 2018
Read Shorty Rogers: Short Stops Reassessing
Shorty Rogers: Short Stops
By Richard J Salvucci
May 22, 2017
Read Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol Reassessing
Oscar Peterson & Stephane Grappelli: Skol
By C. Michael Bailey
October 10, 2013
Read Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy’s Big 4 Reassessing
Dizzy Gillespie: Dizzy’s Big 4
By C. Michael Bailey
September 26, 2013
Read Art Tatum: Solo Masterpieces, Volume One Reassessing
Art Tatum: Solo Masterpieces, Volume One
By C. Michael Bailey
September 24, 2013
Read Zoot Sims And The Gershwin Brothers Reassessing
Zoot Sims And The Gershwin Brothers
By C. Michael Bailey
September 23, 2013