Pharoah Sanders, a titan of the spiritual jazz movement, passed away last autumn, having recently enjoyed a resurgence of mainstream interest in his free form, ethereal sound.
Sanders played tenor sax in John Coltrane’s questing mid-’60s groups, and continued brandishing that torch of meditative, provocative music after Coltrane died in 1967. Sanders kept me company during my lazy, listless student years and again during 2020’s lockdown when an abundance of free time gave me an opportunity to really sit with his records and let them sink in. In 2021 Sanders, British producer Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra created a minimalist, tranquilising album together called Promises, released on the Luaka Bop label and nominated for a Mercury Prize.
Luaka Bop, founded by David Byrne in 1988, are continuing to champion Sanders posthumously, recently announcing a reissue of his sought after 1977 album Pharoah. Eric Welles-Nyström, who was responsible for the label’s 2013 campaign to shed light on the music of (then obscure) Nigerian electronic musician William Onyeabor, tells me the project came about after he first saw Sanders playing live.
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“I didn’t know as much about him at the time,” he tells me, “but [I] was blown away… and then kind of fell in love with him as a person. When we started touring together we slowly became close – I would help sort food and other things on the road. Then I started visiting him in LA and over the years we became closer, and what became the collaboration with Floating Points took shape.”
Pharoah is a warm, cordial record, with the laid-back atmosphere of a ‘back to mine’ jam session, owing partly to the lack of traditional percussion. The opening track, Harvest Time, feels fresh and spontaneous, with the affable momentum of an after-party conversation around the kitchen table. It’s hard to imagine but, according to producer Bob Cummins, the album almost sounded completely different.