Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Pharoah Sanders – Save Our Children (Verve, 1999)

Today is Pharoah Sanders’ 66th birthday, and I celebrated by playing the only album of his that is on my mp3 player. Save Our Children isn’t Pharoah’s best album, but it’s an example of the music he made with Bill Laswell in the 1990’s tapping into Laswell’s motif of new-age/ethnic music. The title track kicks off the disc with sleek pop-rap vocals and heavy electronics – Sanders almost comes off as a sideman on his own record here!

“Berkeley Square” is a ballad performance of the well-known standard with synth strings and a very smooth performance. Fans of Sanders’ hair-raising 1960’s music may not take to this too kindly, because the strings are just too much. On the upside, Pharoah does play ballads well, proving that he is much more than just a one-dimensional musician. “Jewels of Love” brings back some of the Pharoah sound of the old Impulse recordings with Indian instruments adding texture to the sound. Electric keyboards kick in around the 3:20 mark and Sanders comes in with a mellow, peaceful sound on soprano sax. “Kazuko” has a synthesized opening as befits a Laswell production, with Sanders improvising over it in a spare and mournful fashion. There’s a very “new-age” quality to the performance – kind of dull, truth be told. Sanders goes back on the tenor improvising over the synth to take the tune out.

“The Ancient Sounds” has the Indian instruments again, with Sanders taking a very eastern tone, possibly processed through electronics. Percussion kicks in at the 3:20 mark to give things a needed boost. Things really start to cook with the percussion and electronics and then Pharoah comes in to improvise strongly over this base, including some of his trademark overblowing – this is a highpoint of the album. “Far Off Sand” ends the disc with another middle eastern sounding with call-to-prayer type vocals.

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