Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah
The backstory of this 1976 recording by the late tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders is so fascinating and convoluted that it takes a 64-page booklet—included in the box set—to unravel it all. In short, Sanders entered the studio determined to make an album for India Navigation Records producer Bob Cummins that was different than anything the saxophonist had recorded before. His accompanists were an odd, mismatched assortment that included Sanders’ then-wife, Bedria, on harmonium for one track—an instrument she had never played before. That drumless tune, “Harvest Time,” runs more than 20 minutes, the first half of which sails along in an easygoing style that has been described in the past as bordering on new age. It changes course midway, heading into more freeform, Indian-leaning territory, but never really takes off. The other two selections on the original recording, “Love Will Find a Way” and “Memories of Edith Johnson,” dispense with the harmonium and add organist Clifton “Jiggs” Chase and drummer Greg Bandy to a lineup that already includes guitarist Tisziji Munoz, bassist Steve Neil and percussionist Lawrence Killian. Sanders provides a vocal on the first cut, which leans toward R&B, while the final offering is more typically chaotic and free, not dissimilar to Sanders’ better-known Impulse Records label releases a few years earlier. The diversity of the album’s three pieces, and a lack of sufficient distribution, largely kept it out of circulation—in an interview conducted shortly before his 2022 passing, Sanders seemed to have little memory of it. But it’s worth a fresh listen—there are moments of inspiration amidst the less motivated sections. The re-release is augmented by two previously unissued live 1977 quartet recordings of “Harvest Time” that recast the number almost wholly, adding context to the mysterious music that was, in its own time, often, and wrongly, considered a failure.