Saturday, November 05, 2005

Pharoah Sanders - Black Unity

Black Unity
impulse! AS-9219

Recorded November 24th, 1971

1. Black Unity


; tenor saxophone, balaphone
; trumpet
CARLOS GARNETT; tenor saxophone
LAWRENCE KILLIAN; congas, talking drums, balaphone

November 5th. Guy Fawkes night, firework night, whatever you want to call it. So some real fireworks are called for...

How about this for fireworks. By 1971 Pharoah Sanders had already releaed a string of groundbreaking albums, chiefly 1970's 'Karma', containing the masterful "The Creator Has A Master Plan", possibly his best (and best known) work. Pharoah wasn't ready to stop there though, and in 1971 returned with this free jazz masterpiece. Comprising a single eponymous track, "Black Unity" weighs in at a mighty 37:21. Nowadays we are lucky to be able to listen to the whole thing as a continuous piece; presumably on it's release the music would have been split across 2 sides of an LP.

In common with much of the free jazz of the era, this music has a groove. The opening bass riff, played on two instruments, gives a feeling of great propulsion, while at the same time carrying the tune and being funky as hell. The rest of the rhythm section soon joins in, carrying forward the opening bass theme with stabs on the piano and a frenzy of percussion - remember this session featured 2 drummers and a percussionist, so straight away you can tell that rhythm is going to be a priority here.

The whole thing builds slowly, reaching something of a climax in Pharoah's first big wig-out at around the 8-minute mark. Sanders has a sound which is unique amongst saxophonists, and his ability on this album to blow well outwith the confines of the instrument is simply startling. This show of musical freedom just gets the rest of the band started, and off they all go, chasing the Pharoah down the road like their lives depended on it. The quality of the playing is remarkable, the level of invention by each player simply stunning.

It's not an easy ride - although it starts out funky, the playing becomes freer as the piece develops - everybody lifts ideas and plays off everyone else, giving a spontaneous, organic feel to proceedings. The theme is never far away, though, and returns on the two basses from time to time to pull everything back together. Also appearing towards the end is an echo of the theme from "A Love Supreme" (as featured in "The Creator Has A Master Plan"), demonstrating not only Pharoah's respect for his old boss, but also his view, echoed in the sleevenote, that all music is one.


This site has a comprehensive Sanders discography

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