And The Healing Has Begun

Pharaoh Sanders
Live at the East
Impulse : 1972

PS, tenor sax; Joseph Bonner, piano, harmonium; Lonnie Liston Smith, piano, flute, percussion; Marvin Peterson, trumpet; Carlos Garnett, flute, vocals; Harold Vick, vocals, sax; Stanley Clarke, bass; Cecil McBee, bass; Lawrence Killian, congas and bailophone; William Hart, drums.

Maybe it’s the encroaching winter, maybe it’s the crappy economy, but these days we find ourselves fighting off the doldrums. Supposing that maybe you could use a lift as well, we offer up Pharaoh Sanders’ sublime “Healing Song” as a spiritual salve for the coming week.

Coming off his tenure with Coltrane, Sanders cut a profusion of albums for Impulse! in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This body of work has been simultaneously under- and over-rated. The commonly available material, including Karma (with the freak hit “The Creator Has A Master Plan”) and Thembi, doesn’t hold up as well as some of the lesser-known corners of his catalog, particularly Village of the Pharaohs and Live at the East.

Both albums were recorded around the same time and find Pharaoh leading exceptional large ensembles. They’re the culmination of his soul-jazz period, adding compositional nuances, complex solos, and intriguing instrumental textures to his spiritual vamps. It’s no small feat that the 21-minute “Healing Song” has nary a lull, moving from sections of blissful ululations to scarifying skronk and back again. There’s a ceremonial sense of invoking peace but it comes through an acknowledgment of chaos and pain.

Some highlights: The song breaking down to a funky and entrancing bass duet at the 5:00 mark. The effortless way the hypnotic vocals are subtly woven into the parts of the piece. The sublime coda that sounds like an orchestra winding down accompanied by Asian percussion.

Interesting side note: per a Discogs comment, Live at the East wasn’t recorded live at The East. Capturing the date at the Brooklyn club was going to prove too expensive, so the audience was instead brought into the studio to recreate the live environment.  It follows in a small-but-proud tradition of great live albums that aren’t actually live, including James Brown’s Sex Machine.

Here is Pharoah Sanders’ web home. Here’s a rather extensive discography/sessionography. Also, happy belated to Mr. Sanders, who turned 69 on October 13.

What’re some of your favorite “spiritual” jazz joints?

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