June 25, 2024

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CD review: Pharoah Sanders Quartet – Live At Fabrik Hamburg 1980 – 2023: Video, CD cover

This release in a series of live recordings of concerts from the “Fabrik” in Hamburg-Altona, one of those hidden treasures from the archive of the NDR, was intended to bring back the memory of changes and revolutions in the world of jazz of more than four decades ago. It has now turned into an obituary – at the end of September 2022 the tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders passed away at the age of 81.

Beside Sanders you can hear drummer Idris Muhammad, John Hicks on piano and Curtis Lundy on bass. Pharoah Sanders was wandering along spiritual paths at the core of modern jazz, while always keeping in touch with “Mother Africa”. It is a special experience to accompany this quartet on their journey once more.

Pharoah Sanders leads a fine quartet through some of his most popular tunes in this exciting archival concert recording. The music ranges from fiery to lovely with extended takes and lots of solo space.

Tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, who died in September 2022 at the age of 81 was one of the most distinctive voices in modern jazz. As Ferrell Sanders of Little Rock, Arkansas, he climbed the jazz ladder with Sun Ra, who gave him his distinctive name. He rose to prominence as part of John Coltrane’s last groups in the mid-1960s and was part of the ‘New Thing’ free jazz movement centered on the Impulse label. Performing as a band leader in the 1970s, he found his own style that combined visceral screams, “speak in tongues” sound arcs and a magnificent and somewhat unexpected lightness with lush ballads.

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In early 1980, Sanders was fired Journey to the One, a mid-career highlight double LP that was a hit with critics and audiences alike. Live At Fabrik Hamburg 1980 was recorded on June 6 and effectively sees Sanders on a “tour through the album”; Four of the five tracks here are extended versions. The band performed John Hicks (piano) and Idris Mohammed (drums) fresh from the sessions. They are accompanied on the double bass by Curtis Lundy who takes over the role of Ray Drummond.

NDR has been publishing archive recordings of factory gigs for some time. A former machine factory in the Altona district of Hamburg, founded in 1976 and still very much alive today, it has hosted musicians from Tangerine Dream to Tanita Tikaram. This is the oldest performance yet to be released, the sound is good and unmistakably live with a little reverberation in the room adding to the atmosphere.

We get in straight away You must have freedom, a true Sanders signature track that became a hit with jazz dance enthusiasts in the late 1980s. Hicks begins reeling off piano licks, with Sanders joining in with screeching polytonics before delivering the simple melody line. The tempo is a bit faster than the studio version and the solos are a bit more “outside”, both of which are unsurprising and add to the fun of the reinterpretations. Lundy’s bass starts out high in the mix, but calms down over the course of 18 minutes (almost three times the length of the studio version).

John Hicks has to be one of the most recorded jazz musicians of all time. As part of Sanders’ very first band in the early 1960’s, Hicks was well known and in demand with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Lists show him with well over 50 albums as a manager, with more than 150 in sideman roles (like here). All musicians are given more solo space in this concert environment, and Hicks is never less than rousing as he steams along, shifting from hints of McCoy Tyner in his big left-hand chords to pounding keyboard attacks.

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Dr Pitt takes a somewhat similar modal path with extended saxophone and piano solos over its twenty minutes. Idris Muhammad joins the show with great force, putting down a well-formed solo of his own, to the audience’s obvious appreciation. Rodgers and Harts It’s easy to remember is a subtle contrast, a ballad recorded at a modest pace (though Hicks can’t resist doubling the sentiment in his solo, and then doubling it again). Curtis Landy’s bass solo, on the other hand, is peaceful and reflective.

The Creator has a master plan, released in 1969, was always Sanders’ trademark, an early piece of spiritual jazz. This version is much shorter than the 32-minute original and Sanders uses it to introduce the band before officially ending the set. There is an encore – Greetings to Idris, with its majestic tenor theme, another great solo from Hicks and a tranquil ending to send us off into the night. This is a super snapshot of a great band at their best.

1 You Gotta Have Freedom
2 It’s Easy To Remember
3 Dr. Pitt
4 The Creator Has A Masterplan
5 Greetings To Idris

Pharoah Sanders (ts), John Hicks (p), Curtis Lundy (b), and Idris Muhammad (d)

Pharoah Sanders Quartet - Live At Fabrik, Hamburg 1980 at STPR - STRANGER THAN PARADISE RECORDS | LONDON

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