The Jazz Universe Inside My Head

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Monday, February 20, 2006


Pharoah Sanders
Year: 1969
Label: Impulse

In 1969 jazz seemed to have lost most its original roots. It was the year that Bitches Brew shattered record sales and got the attention of the flower generation. To many the evolution was a deficient leap but to others, well, their eyes were wide open to the natural shift. At the same time, though, there was an emptiness of creativity left by the premature death of Coltrane. But as pianist /keyboardist Keith Jarrett said of Tranes’ death, “Everyone felt a big gap all of a sudden. But he didn’t intend to leave a gap. He intended that there be more space for everybody to do what they should do.”
When Coltrane passed in 1967 he did indeed open up more space for everybody to play in. He had a school of younger players that were eager to carry the blazing saxophone torch that he lit. They included Marion Brown, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders. Each of these players incorporated what they knew and mixed it with Trane’s deep influences. The combinations of creativity aligned perfectly in 1969 when Sanders’ Karma was released.
The album has only two tracks: “The Creator has a Master Plan,” which clocks in at 33 minutes and the six-minute “Colors.” “Creator” is a journey that touches on a full spectrum of moods, at times going from free chaos to uplifting peace in the matter of seconds. It must be listened to attentively and all the way through to truly understand its intention. The track begins with a nod to Coltrane and the continuing influence that he had on Sanders’ work. A variation of “A Love Supreme” can be heard after the songs introduction. But it’s evident that Sanders and his mates have something different in mind; a sound more brightened. For the first eight minutes this record grooves (Sanders’ sax wails and groans) over a two-chord progression. At about this point vocalist Leon Thomas enters and yodels a bit, then begins singing the song’s theme of the creator and his master plan. The song never stops heightening until about the eighteenth minute, where it just explodes into an emotional mixture of joy and holy mess. All the musicians are let free to do what they want, including Thomas’ howling yodels. The music then, maybe around the twenty-sixth minute, begins to bend back into the shape of its theme. Like a circle, it finishes where it began. There is nothing like it.
So, what could follow the massive “Creator?” Like a beautiful sunset after a deeply spiritual night, “Colors” delivers the necessary ending to the album with its easy flow. Sanders solos around its loose feel but Thomas’ vocals are featured here:

…People say that life is misery
but in him there is no mystery
so he sends to us his rainbow of love
I see red and orange and purple
yellow and blue and green

Without him there is no harmony

The album finishes off before you know it and there’s nothing to do but smile. It would be a mistake to not get a hold of a copy of Karma right now because it’s that supreme.

What I’ve Also Been Listening In Addition To Karma:

Art Ensemble of Chicago 11/11/76
Jimmy Smith Root Down
Medeski, Martin and Wood NY Jazz Fest 6/8/98
Bobby Hutcherson Components
Cecil Taylor Conquistador!


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