Thursday, December 24, 2015

Pharaoh Sanders - Jewels of Thought (Impulse, 1969)

Tenor saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Pharoah Sanders was most well known for playing with John Coltrane from 1965 – 1967, but he really came into his own as a solo artist in 1969, when he recorded his most well known solo LP, Karma, which featured the iconic song “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” This album follows the same route with Leon Thomas again singing, chanting and yodeling along with Lonnie Liston Smith on piano, Cecil McBee and Richard Davis on bass and Idris Muhammad or Roy Haynes on drums. Everyone in the band also contributes hand percussion making for a much larger sound. Thomas encourages those in the studio to join in counting time and chanting the title “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” before launching into lyrics invoking peace and togetherness. As Thomas moves into his trademark spooky yodeling, the improvisation moves into deeper territory, and Sanders tone develops the harsh and guttural tone that he is most well known for over a deepening thicket of percussion and quite beautiful piano from L.L. Smith. Sanders takes things higher, but levels off, allowing the music to develop organically rather than trying to force it. There is an open ended feel to the near half-hour long “Sun in Aquarius” with bells, percussion, flutes and rumbling piano beginning what sounds like a dark procession into the unknown. Pharoah comes out screaming with all he has got, trying to hold back the tide of thundering percussion, bass and piano, he is blowing over the top. There comes a brief respite of calm, led by Smith’s wonderfully melodic piano playing (he’s really the unsung hero here) and Pharoah reels things back to a quieter more centered pace, leaving an opening for the shaking of bells and the warbling of Leon Thomas. There is a nice interlude for a much deserved duet between the two very talented bass players. Out of nowhere, Pharoah blasts his most harrowing tenor saxophone solo on this record, unleashing piercing cries of pure emotion that are amazing to behold. He rears back and howls like he is shaking an angry fist at heaven for being wronged and the music threatens to engulf and immolate him in a pyre of fiery passion. Things do calm down from that ecstatic high and return to melody almost triumphantly with Thomas yodeling and chanting and Sanders playing off of him. While some of the music, particularly Leon Thomas’s vocal acrobatics and lyrics seem dated and of a particular time, most of the music holds up quite well. Lonnie Liston Smith is a gem when given a chance and the bassists and drummers were fine as well. But it was Pharoah Sanders’ record, and he puts his indelible stamp upon it with some of his finest playing: sections of attractive melody juxtaposed by areas where he takes flight and refuses to be denied. Jewels of Thought -

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