Monday, January 10, 2011

Pharaoh Sanders - Karma (1969)

One of the more joyous and exciting examples of free jazz I've heard (although I'm admittedly still a novice in the genre) is the third solo album by saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. The album is dominated by a thirty minute track entitled "The Creator Has a Master Plan" with brief five minute coda in the form of the song "Colors." Both are similar in texture, although "Colors" is more of a cool down piece after the intensity of what precedes it.

Sanders' tenor saxophone is the principal instrument, naturally, and he has a very rich, unique tone that resonates with a lot of harmonics. However, it's the bed of sound laid down by the other instruments that I find particularly interesting. Flute, trumpet, bass, piano and a variety of percussion instruments including shakers and bells are constantly playing off of one another, forming a complex and beautiful texture to the music that reminds a bit of some early Krautrock records by the likes of Amon Düül II.

There are also vocals, supplied by Leon Thomas, and while the lyrics are of the somewhat trite "peace and love" variety, failing to add much to the recording, he eventually launches into a strange sort of yodeling that is very unique and which soon becomes just another instrument in the mix.

A bit over halfway through, the band moves from loosely improvised jamming into honest to goodness free jazz and all sense of structure collapses and the listener is consumed under mountains of screaming saxophone and frantic wailing by Thomas. All the instruments have such different timbres and they compliment one another so well, though, that it's still easy for the ear to follow individual parts. This results in a vitality and listenability that I have found to be lacking in other similar records that I have heard.

Finally, all the ruckus settles back down and we are left with the pastoral "Colors," in which Thomas' voice is used to great effect as a smooth crooner, soothing us off to sleep after a wild, wild party.

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