Pharoah Sanders at the Jazz Café, London

pharoah-sandersPharoah Sanders is the most loyal of Coltrane’s disciples.  And even now at the age 67, this elder statesman of the 60s black avant-garde scene continues to carry the torch for his fallen musical mentor.   

The tenorman from Little Rock Arkansas kicked off his Thursday night set at the Jazz Café with an epic version of ‘My Favourite Things’.  Sanders attacked his instrument, spraying out long runs of multiphonic notes to create his instantly recognisable muscular style. Switching between sharp ear-splitting screams and deep guttural growls, the timbre of his horn adopted a vocal quality; which he eventually took one step further by taking it out of his mouth and making it play on its own (a trick he has become famed for over the years).

However, in an uncharacteristically drab blue jumper, and looking somewhat shaky on his feet, Sanders’ energy dwindled as he played the lush ‘Say It (Over and Over Again)’ off Coltrane’s Ballads album.  But after sitting down for a while, and allowing pianist William Henderson, bassist Nat Reeves and drummer Joe Farnsworth to stride out on their own, he rose once more.

Sadly the formulaic approach to each number saw all band members playing uninspired solos for drawn-out periods; eventually the lacklustre sidemen becoming a little tedious to watch.  It was left to Sanders alone to lift everyone’s spirits by finishing the set with the rhythm and blues tinged ‘Wisdom through Music’.  By blowing into the crowd, jovially dancing (albeit in a geriatric fashion) and even gyrating his saxophone, he created a carnival atmosphere in the venue.

Unfortunately, he did not come back and encore with any of his earlier Impulse tunes, but considering his age and the amount of effort it took for him to climb up the stairs to his changing room, I don’t think anybody disapproved.


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