Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pharoah Sanders Anthology You've Got to Have Freedom (Soul Brother, 2005)

Pharoah Sanders career now stretches over forty years, from his ground-breaking work with John Coltrane to the spiritual jazz he has dedicated his life to for the remainder of his career, he is one of the music's preeminent seekers. This two-disc collection is the first to measure the scope of his career as a band leader, incorporating not only his well-known early work on the Impulse label, but later music recorded for Theresa and Verve. Although there has been a gradual mellowing in the ferocity of his music over the years, his sound still maintains the aura of a profound spiritual quest.

'Upper and Lower Egypt' begins the compilation with a very melodic groove that eventually turns more caustic as Sanders tenor saxophone, still very raw at this stage, enters the mix. 'The Creator Has a Master Plan' has become his theme song over the years and something of an underground hit. This masterpiece of spiritual jazz features Leon Thomas on the memorable yodeling vocal over a large group with percussion. One thing that could irritate Sanders fans about this compilation is the fact that some tracks such as this one have been edited so that a variety of compositions could fit on the discs. The edits are done with taste, so each performance retains its core elements. The remainder of the first disc and the beginning of the second tracks Sanders tenure with the Impulse label culminating in the epic un-cut version of 'Love Is Everywhere' which is the title track to his final Impulse album.

The rest of the compilation cherry-picks from recordings that have come since. Pharoah Sanders has drifted to a number of different record labels in the intervening years, perhaps the most successful being the three albums he cut for the Theresa label in the 1980s which are represented here by the exuberant 'You've Got to Have Freedom' with its chanted vocals and wailing saxophone. While some of Sanders later period music involved an ill-fated flirtation with disco, he returned to his spiritual path with his Bill Laswell produced albums for the 1990s of which 'Nozipho' represents here with some excellent saxophone work. The hardcore Sanders collector will not find anything they do not already own here, but for anyone curious about Sanders music, this makes for an excellent place to begin the exploration.

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