The New Thing of the 1960s was in many ways an insurgent movement- both building from and at the same time challenging the prevailing traditions in Jazz. Players like Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp were among the most outspoken and recognizable mutineers. But when the fires of insurrection abated in the 1970s, both men were criticized for what many mistook to be an apostasy from their former selves. Shepp returned to jazz tradition, cutting records that relied heavily on readings standards while still retaining his unmistakable sound. Sanders moved in a different direction delving further into the spiritual pursuits that had shaped his work during and after his tenure with Trane. Both were accused at various times of selling out to the establishment.
Fortunately for all of us Sanders and Shepp have transcended these shortsighted critiques and are still making brilliant music. In Sanders case that fact is made abundantly clear on this recent release on Meta Records. Sanders finds rhythmic support of uncommon fluidity in the percussive team of Drake and Rudolph and charts his tenor for a gorgeous course on the opening “Sunrise” across a menagerie of drum and drone voices. Essentially one long, spirit cleansing invocation that unfurls over almost a third of an hour the piece is a musical statement of ear-arresting beauty. Sander’s horn rises from a soothing sea of delicate percussion like a barnacle-encrusted humpback whale basking in the sun’s rays. “Morning In Soweto” and “The Thousand Petalled Lotus” are part of a single performance that finds Sanders blowing at a more vigorous pace that echoes the ecstatic overtone-laden reedwork of his time with Coltrane. Drake and Rudolph fashion an undulating groove on tabla and conga respectively and Sanders is left to wail and roar into the firmament around a deceptively simple melodic motif. The interaction between Drake and Sanders throughout shows intriguing similarities to the sympathetic relationship the drummer shares with saxophonist Fred Anderson in performance. No matter how effulgent and unfettered Sander’s horn becomes the rhythmic center is always sustained. The next four pieces are similarly intertwined as the three players cycle through their various instruments while keeping a forward moving pulse. “Sunset” seals the cycle in a paregoric return to the opening theme first brought to light with “Sunrise.” Throughout all of the tracks Sanders unintentionally answers his critics proving that his sound hasn’t mellowed over the years, it’s expanded. There is every bit of the fire of his 60s work infused in his sound today; it’s simply been enlarged and enhanced by the advent of age.
Listening to the music of these three musicians it may be tempting to lament that there work is not more widely circulated. Anything worth hearing is worth searching for however, and as an entry on Rudolph’s Meta imprint this must hear music is assured complete preservation of artistic integrity. The financial rewards may not be as forthcoming considering its smaller distribution but for the players I’m certain that the ability and opportunity to create this caliber of music must be reward enough.
Tracks:Sunrise/ Morning In Soweto/ I And Thou/ Uma Lake/ Ancient Peoples/ Calling To The Luminous Beings/ Roundhouse/ Molimo/ Sunset.
Players:Pharoah Sanders- tenor saxophone, vocal, wood flutes, Hindehoo; Hamid Drake- trap drums, vocal, def, tabla, frame drum; Adam Rudolph- hand drum set (conga, djembe), Udu drum, thumb piano; talking drum; bendir, bamboo flute, overtone singing, gong, percussion.
Meta Records on the web: http://www.metarecords.com