shytone  books  music  essays  home  exploratories  new this month

music reviews

Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid (Impulse)

Sanders' second, his first for a major label, and one of the key links between free jazz & the emergent blare of the Velvets/MC5/Stooges et. al… The year was 1966, the place was New York, and the milieu was that of the jazz avant-garde looking towards the rest of the world for inspiration.

Cited by the great Ron Ashton (RIP) of the Stooges as one of his favorite pieces of music, the opener "Upper & Lower Egypt" is in many ways the blueprint for the kind of structures that Sanders was to explore over the next five years. Opening w/a churning & yet delicate modal ensemble dominated by piano, guitar & percussion, it then drifts into a sparse & broken section only to reconfigure - presumably in Lower Egypt - w/a latin feel, over which Pharoah proceeds to finally erupt in ecstatic saxophone-speak before winding down. And, whilst the whole piece is still marvelously fresh, it's Sonny Sharrock's guitar on the first section that I want to talk about here… Because, for those of you who think of jazz guitar as slick, linear & polite, this one'll come as a revelation. Sounding for all the world like Lou Reed's radical "ostrich guitar" on the early Velvet Underground stuff (must be something in the water) Sharrock quite simply erases the previous tradition & starts anew. Guitarists please take note….

"Japan" is a lovely fragment, cod-orientalism at it's finest, w/a beautifully wayward vocal from Pharoah to top it off. Dunno if you can call it "jazz", though - not that that should worry anyone at this late date. And "Aum/Venus/Capricorn Rising" - dominated as it is by the sax/bass/drums - offers ample lyrical flow & full-blown free action (including several amazing left-field outbursts from Sharrock) to satisfy any purists that might be lurking in the woodpile.

However you wanna read it, this was one great group, w/the interplay between guitar/bass/drums & percussion particularly uncanny. And, unlike some of Sanders' later & larger ensembles, there is no sense here that his sax is uncomfortably isolated in its role as the sole horn. For those who are tempted to stray away from the guitar zone, by the praise of their heroes for the free jazz of old, there is, quite literally, no better place to start…

John Henry Calvinist