Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Tenor of the Times

Greetings friends! I am still mostly shelved with the eye ailment, but I am not gonna miss the 75th birthday of one of my favorite musicians of all time... even if I have to squint through it to get to it.
Pharoah Sanders has been at the thing for a lonnnnng time. From his earliest recordings with Sun Ra to now, there just hasn't been a more passionate and powerful purveyor of the tenor saxophone than he. Sonny Rollins is perhaps the only other player in his league that remains with us from the long-gone days of post-bop, Afro-spiritual Jazz.
There's a reason why Coltrane was called The Father, Pharoah was The Son, and Albert Ayler was The Holy Ghost. The path through the music we love as Jazz geeks runs right through this man's talents, and cannot in any way be avoided if you're trying to dig the timeline of the development of the music in these last 50 years plus.
Possessed of a screaming, explosive tone that can slip seamlessly into the most lyrical lines and soothing sound you ever heard, when I think of how many reeds he has simultaneously caressed, shattered and split in five decades of doing it I find myself just grateful above all that I was smart (OK, lucky) enough to have been born during the time he is around, and that my puny lifetime overlaps with a giant such as he.
I actually met him once. I used to work for many years at a non-profit that at the time (this was in 1996) had its offices in San Francisco, and one night after work we all repaired to the corner of 5th and Mission to a bar located in the ground floor of the old Pickwick Hotel. After a trip to the back alley for some, uh, herbal refreshment, we passed back through the lobby and who should be checking in to the hotel, surrounded by about 15 horn cases, but the man himself. 
High, shy and wondering why, my friend (a musician of great skill himself) and I (a musician of not-great skill) went back to the foyer and greeted him reverently. He told us that he was in town to score and accompany, live from the orchestra pit, a performance of the SF Ballet. We stood there, jelly-legged, shaking his hand and professing our adoration of his music. 
He must have wondered who these stoned palefaces were and what we were on about, but it's a moment I will never forget... like being in the presence of a deity or higher being. I have met and feel comfortable and am even friends with many, many people you might consider celebrities, but I've never once met one that had the radiance and spiritual aura that I felt from Pharoah Sanders... not before and certainly not since.
He turns 75 today, a huge milestone birthday for anyone, so to honor this titanic tenor I have dug out this incredible PALplus mpeg file, captured from satellite TV in pristine fashion, of this utter steamroller of a performance by (seminal, needs his own blog post here) guitar maestro James "Blood" Ulmer's tremendous Music Revelation Ensemble from back in 2003. This has Pharoah as the guest soloist and you can bet he does not at all hold back from blowing the roof off the place.
The Music Revelation Ensemble featuring Pharoah Sanders
34th Internationale Jazzwoche
Burghausen, Germany

01 Law
02 High Yellow
03 Sweet
04 Little Red Rooster
05 My Prayer
06 Eviction
07 Evidence

Total time: 1:44:17

Pharoah Sanders - tenor saxophone
James "Blood" Ulmer - guitar, vocals
Calvin Jones - bass
Cornel Rochester - drums

PALplus mpeg file digitally captured from an ARD Alpha satellite broadcast
This is definitely a stomper of a set, with the MRE and Pharoah blazing their way through an hour and three quarters of mesmerizing music in a variety of styles. Ulmer even sings a few of his blues-on-acid-from-Alderaan tunes, and they go from straight-ahead Jazz to free-blowing volcanicized eruptions to the off-kilter free-funk this group is famous for among those who know them. And all with today's birthday guy embroidering his unique contributions, that only he could make, on top of the soup. Anyway I am gonna get off before I go blind here, but please do pull this tasty little sucker down and have a look-n-listen, all the while making sure to show love and respect for Pharoah Sanders, a most irreplaceable and towering musical force born this day in 1940.--J.

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