June 17, 2024


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The old man and the more։ A great late work by the eighty-year-old saxophonist Pharoah Sanders: Video, Photos

What happens when the greatest sound mystic in jazz blows against electronic sound machines and a symphony orchestra? A great late work by the eighty-year-old saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

There are musical alliances that one dare not even dream of: what if the high priest of spiritual jazz allied with the most exciting electronics engineer in Great Britain? What if the wise old man of the tenor saxophone took on the structural logic of sound machines? What if a synthesis emerged that, as a pulsating unity of composition and improvisation, refused all stylistic attributions?

Now this unheard-of case has occurred: The eighty-year-old Pharoah Sanders, who likes to use his saxophone as the “megaphone of the soul”, and Sam Shepherd, alias Floating Points, who is not even half his age, have come together for the “Promises” project. Anyone who expresses concerns about this daring connection, whether the “promises” can also be fulfilled, is quickly robbed of their doubts. After just one and a half minutes it is clear: no contemporary saxophonist comes closer to the human breath with his tone than Pharoah Sanders.

In the forty-six minute long composition, his free improvisations circle a melodic glowing core against the background of spherical jungle music, which repeatedly heats up the ingratiating phrases. Often the tones seem to blow in from somewhere without a break. It is the contemplative intensity of Sanders ’tenor playing that now envelops almost every one of his sounds with an aura of the precious. Its tone vibrates deep into the human body. Sometimes just an exhausted breath, then a hymn-like shouting – Sanders strolls so cautiously through the swirling soundscapes of Shepherd that his saxophone motifs repeatedly interpenetrate with the figures of a Fender Rhodes piano, a celesta or an EMS synth.

Music in the state of its permanent liquefaction – a simple seven-note figure on the keyboard acts as the leitmotif in the nine movements of this semi-minimalist quasi-concert piece. In the fourth Movement, for example, Sanders hums and hums onomatopoeic syllable sequences that assert themselves far from clearly articulated communication. Soon he translates his vocal utterances into gentle saxophone abbreviations. Sanders is long past the wild sound eruptions that he cultivated after the death of his mentor John Coltrane on albums such as “Tauhid”, “Karma” or “Thembi”. At least since “Harvest Time” of 1976, when he savored the intimate whispering qualities of his saxophone to the point of falling silent, he has been exploring the entire sound spectrum of the saxophone with rare aplomb. No wonder that “Harvest Time” was considered a kind of blueprint for the new album, as Shepherd put on this twenty-minute piece at a six-hour gig in Berlin’s “Berghain”, causing irritation on the dance floor.

Folgt dem Lockruf der Jugend: Pharoah Sanders (rechts) mit  dem Elektro-Musiker Sam Shepherd alias Floating Points

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