'Living legend' Pharoah Sanders played a brief 3 date UK tour last week, stopping off in Birmingham on Firday October 30th. In the rarified atmosphere of the CBSO centre (the orchestra practice space, I believe) we were treated to 2 hours of classic jazz from Pharoah and his band. He'll be 65 now (born in 1940 i think) and is certainly past his best in terms of fitness. On a few occasions he produced the kind of sounds he became famous for in the late 1960's - he can certainly still control his sqwauking - but it was hard work for him and later in the set he played his sax less and less.
When he did play, though his tone was wonderful - helped by some excellent acoustics in the hall, no doubt - and the intensity of his playing was not in doubt. Sadly I arrived a few minutes late, but was just in time to hear a stellar version of John Coltrane's 'lazybird' with Pharoah doing his best 'sheets of sound' impression. That was followed by a slower number which nearly put Stewart to sleep, and then he played a truncated 'the creator has a master plan' - emphasising the intro over the longer groove section. Fantastic, it was, but a bit of an anticlimax when he stopped just after the main 'a love supreme' riff came in.
The second set kicked off with a version of 'my favourite things' which was, for me, the highpoint of the evening. Not because of Pharoahs' playing - which was great although limited to a brief improvisation after the theme - but because of the fantastic performance of the other musicians. I can't remember the names - but the pianist played an excellent extended solo in that modal style employed by Herbie Hancock on albums like 'empyrean isles' - always my favourite kind of jazz piano playing. Then the drummer went crazy for a good 5 minutes - i'm sure that guy had at least one extra arm somewhere. There's something really great about this type of drum solo - when the drummer has a small kit (snare, bass, 1 tom, side drum, hihat and 2 ride cymbals - (hope i've got the terminology right, dad!)) but keeps up a stream of continuous invention that makes the entire solo captivating. Max Roach was good at this kind of thing (Charlie Watts and John Bonham were not, if you see what I mean!).
That was followed by a calypso-ish number, with pharoah enjoying himself to the full with some impromptu scat singing down the wrong end of his sax! Another great group performance. And finally, a track with pharoah on vocals - something about 'save our children' - this was the name of a recent (1990's) album so i wonder if the track comes from that? It was ok, pretty low key, though.
All in all, a night of good music and entertainment (almost as much fun was had spotting the bored other halves in the audience!) The venue had it's pros and cons, though. I've already mentioned the quality of the acoustics - it was a bit like sitting at home with a high end stereo and listening to the record - and that was also the problem. It was a bit clinical. As atmospheric as the moon. Perhaps 'polite' is a good word?
Still, a good night in total - it's always great to see a 'living legend' even if they don't live up to their heyday. The other great thing about it was the realisation that there's actually a lot of jazz going on in birmingham these days - something to watch out for for the future.
Pharoah Sanders Links
A pharoah sanders page; http://members.aol.com/ishorst/love/sanders.html
Pharoah Sanders at Impulse! Records; http://www.vervemusicgroup.com/artist.aspx?ob=per&src=prd&aid=2663