28 February 2009

Pharoah Sanders

I've been living in Sydney for a little over a year. In that time I haven't managed to find any decent employment and have just been working odd jobs around the way. I've just come home from working at a restaurant. Without getting into a big diatribe about the service industry, I'll just say that this job bums me out. It's a bit of an existentialist nightmare, for one thing. But the larger issue is all the stress that everyone is under all the time and the disrespect for coworkers that stems from this stress. I've never really considered food service to be a serious occupation, so I don't really get too stressed at work. But as you may well know, it's difficult to work in an environment where everyone is yelling at each other and ordering people around.

What I find to be a really good remedy when I'm feeling down about this is to consider the grand order of things and the peace and positive energy that exist in the world. I turn to the deep thinkers, the enlightened ones. I always find it uplifting to listen to the meditative retreats of certain Impulse! artists like Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. The themes of these artists are usually love, meditation, spiritualism, and peace. I suppose these themes could sound really hokey if the music wasn't there to match. Fortunately, these are some of the greatest, most free-thinking jazz musicians ever, and usually the music says it far more eloquently than the words might.

I don't know a whole lot about jazz, and only within the last two years have I really started to "get it." When I was first starting to enjoy jazz I was introduced to Pharoah Sanders. He played with both John and Alice Coltrane in their prime periods, and has continued his own recordings into this decade. As a 69 year old he gets out a lot less than he used to, but he's still known to make an appearance at jazz festivals from time to time. The first recording that I heard by Pharoah Sanders was 1969's "Karma." Karma is largely comprised of a single track- "The Creator Has a Master Plan." In the first 8 minutes, Sanders' tenor sax is on display, first as bombastic chaos (as a friend once said, "This sounds like someone's running through a pack of loons."), and then as a more relaxed and uplifting 2 chord stroll. But from there, it's Leon Thomas' singing that really takes over. First it's a soothing refrain, but it eventually drifts away from structure and into freeform yodelling and spiritual prowess. The song grows into a serious freakout as Thomas begins to whoop and holler in a way that sounds nonhuman. Sanders complements this with his own hollering, only he does so through his instrument. They eventually come down to finish the song on a peaceful note with the same refrain as what started out this journey.

The other track, Colors, is more peaceful and contemplative. The track serves as a comedown from the epicness of "The Creator Has a Master Plan" with a babbling piano line and Thomas' soothing baritone. The drums never really play a rhythm, so to speak, but instead shuffle along in order to signify the ending.

Pharoah Sanders - Karma

Track Listing:
1) The Creator Has a Master Plan
2) Colors