Sanders sounds imperious and majestic.

Fabrik 977123

Pharoah Sanders (tenor saxophone); John Hicks (piano); Curtis Lundy (bass); Idris Muhammad (drums)

It is hard to get away from the epithet ‘spiritual’ when you read about Pharoah Sanders. He joined John Coltrane in 1965 when Coltrane was entering his ‘spiritual’ phase and certainly Sanders took on that description when he continued with Alice Coltrane. By the time of this recording, thirteen years after Coltrane’s death, Sanders had begun to develop a style away from the overwhelming influence of Coltrane. However, the influence can still be heard in ‘The Creator Has A Masterplan’ a truncated version which is greeted with considerable acclaim by the audience.

‘Greeting to Idris’ bursts forth with beautiful rich sound, underpinned by the vamps from Hicks. It is on a piece like this where Sanders sounds imperious and majestic that you can appreciate the subtleties of tone and the harmonic richness that Sanders can deploy. There is real beauty as he battles to rise above the intense barrages from Hicks and Lundy.

I’m not so much of a technical player myself,” Sanders explained in an interview recently. ‘I’m probably not that much of an intellectual player, as some other musicians. What I do is… express. That’s what I do.’ He has his own version of spirituality, asked about his religious affiliations, Sanders once said, ‘I try and pray all the time. The day’s like one big prayer to me.’

The plethora of experiences that mark John Hicks playing style are soon apparent:  they range from work with Art Blakey to Betty Carter to Woody Herman. The replicas of the McCoy Tyner style that he produces are not only convincing but seemingly heartfelt. The album belongs as much to Hicks as it does to Sanders: his piano rocks and pulses and energises as he drives the tenor player.

The most startling piece on the album is the playing of the Richard Rogers piece ‘It’s Easy To Remember’. Was the playing of a ballad something that Sanders learnt from Coltrane? The sheer beauty of the music which is also enhanced by the flowing playing of John Hicks as he changes the tempo imperceptibly. Curtis Lundy slows the tempo for a thoughtful deliberate muse on the theme. Lundy has played with Hicks before and they make a cohesive team.

‘Dr Pitt’ opens very like the Coltrane Quartet. This is energy music. ‘Energy is eternal delight,’ wrote William Blake.  Blake would have appreciated the delight that is here with the churning, blazing, coruscating sound. The bass of Curtis Lundy is urgent, seeking a place in the white hot, rhythmic maelstrom.

This is a superb album as Sanders journeys away from Coltrane on his quest to find his own voice. He was once described as ‘a mad wind screeching through the root-cellars of Hell’. He is not quite like that here; he is majestically better than that.

Reviewed by Jack Kenny