During a solo career that started in 1964, with the release of his debut album Pharoah’s First, Pharoah Sanders has released over thirty solo albums. As if this isn’t impressive enough, he’s accompanied jazz legends John and Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Don Cherry. Pharoah’s other collaborations have included working with such luminaries as Terry Callier, Sun Ran and Ornette Coleman, who referred to Pharoah as “probably the best tenor player in the world.” This is high praise indeed, but for anyone who has heard his legendary sheets of sound, this isn’t unexpected. Some of the Pharoah’s best work was for Impulse Records, the home to ‘Trane, Coleman Hawkins, Chico Hamilton and Max Roach. to name but a few. Whilst signed to Impulse, Pharoah released ten albums between 1969 and 1973. However, five years later, Pharoah Sanders would release an album of the music he started off playing, R&B. This was Love Will Find A Way, the first of two albums he released for Arista. On Love Will Find A Way, which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 23d April 2012, Pharoah fuses R&B, soul, funk and quiet storm, on seven tracks, which feature jazz drummer Norman Conners and Philly soulstress Phillis Hyman. However, before I tell you about Love Will Find A Way, I’ll tell you about the background to the album and how the change in style on the album came about.

Before Pahroah signed to Arista, things weren’t going well for him. He was living in a run-down flat in New York, and it was quite obvious Pharoah was down on his luck. He was without a record deal, having only released one album since leaving Impulse in 1973, Pharoah in 1977 on the American independent label India Navigation. However, things were soon to change when a musician from his past would reenter his life, Norman Connors. 

Norman had first played with Pharoah when he was just sixteen, and part of John Coltrane’s band. Due to Trane’s regular drummer Elvin Jones not playing, Norman replaced him. After this, Norman Connors and Pharoah’s paths continued to cross. By 1978, Norman had released a trio of successful albums, 1976s You Are My Starship, 1977s Romantic Journey and Norman’s first album for Arista, 1978s This Is Your Life. Having seen the conditions Pharoah was living in, and realized how their careers had taken quite different paths Norman decided to try and help his idol. He approached Clive Davis, head of Arista, and broached the subject of signing  Pharoah to Arista. Clive Davis agreed to this, with Norman finding Pharoah, who then signed a recording contract with Arista. This saw Pharoah release two albums for Arista, 1977s Love Will Find A Way and 1978s Beyond A Dream. This would see a transformation in Pharoah’s life, with him leaving his run-down flat in New York, the destination California.

Pharoah’s destination was the Kendun Studios, Burbank, California, where Norman Connors would produce what would become Love Will Find A Way. Joining Norman and Pharoah, was Phillis Hyman, who’d sung on Norman’s 1976 album You Are My Starship. The band that would accompany Pharoah included guitarists Wah Wah Watson and David T. Walker, bassist Donny Beck and keyboard players Hubert Eaves and Bobby Lyle. The horn section included saxophonist Ernie Watts and trombonist George Bohannon. In total, over twenty musicians played on Love Will Find A Way, plus The Waters Family who sang backing vocals. They backed Pharoah on an album that fused soul, funk and R&B. Seven songs were recorded, with Pharoah writing one track, Phoramba and cowrote two others. With these songs recorded, not only did the album mark a change in style from Pharoah’s normal free jazz, but marked a change in his fortunes.

Before the release of Love Will Find A Way, As You Are was released as a single in February 1978, but failed to chart. When Love Will Find A Way was released in March 1978, the album reached number forty-one on the US R&B Charts, marking a change in Pharoah’s fortunes commercially. After the success of Love Will Find A Way, Got To Give It Up was released as a single, but like As You Are, failed to charge. However, Norman Connors and Clive Davis’ decision to sign Pharoah Sanders had been vindicated, with Love Will Find A Way proving a commercial success. Although it’s very different from Pharoah’s usual free jazz, it’s a hidden gem of an album, as you’ll realize when I tell you about the music on Love Will Find A Way.

Love Will Find A Way opens with the title-track, Love Will Find A Way, written by Pharoah’s daughter Bedria Sanders. It’s a gentle, melodic track with percussion, piano and the rhythm section combining with the lushest strings, as the track meanders beautifully along. When Pharoah’s rasping tenor saxophone enters, he’s playing it with feeling and emotion, taking care with each note. Behind him, The Waters Family add beautiful, subtle backing vocals, which are replaced by the cascading strings. Flourishes of piano play a large part in the track, drifting majestically in and out. However, every musician plays their part in making this beautiful, melodic track so compelling and enthralling.

Pharomba was the only track written by Pharoah himself and arranged by McKinley Jackson. It sees him kick loose, unleashing a powerful solo not long after the track opens. The combination of pounding drums, piano and percussion is just an Amuse Bouche, with Pharoah providing the meaty main course. His playing is a mixture of power and passion, his tenor saxophone unleashing a wash of screaming, blazing and emotive music. Meanwhile, the rest of his band augment his playing, with the rhythm section, piano, percussion seemingly content to let the Pharoah take centre-stage. Here, he demonstrates his legendary sheets of sound, as timpani and backing vocalists accompany him, as he strays into free jazz territory towards the end of the track displaying just why Ornette Coleman called Pharoah “probably the best tenor player in the world.”

On Love Is Here, Phyllis Hyman makes her first appearance on Love Will Find A Way. The Philly-born singer delivers an impassioned and emotional performance. Meanwhile, Pharoah and his band combine to produce an arrangement that starts of reflecting the power and passion in Phyllis’ vocal, before it’s all change, when Pharoah unleashes a solo. He replaces Phyllis’ vocal for the rest of the track, playing with a similar display of power and passion. His rasping, growling saxophone veers between beautiful, emotive and impassioned, before becoming laden with drama, soaring high, leaving the rest of his band trailing in his wake. The contrast between the sound of Phyllis’ vocal and Pharoah’s tenor saxophone may be vast, but they’re both heartfelt, full of emotion, displaying power and passion.

There’s a real jazz funk sound on Got To Give It Up, a cover of a Marvin Gaye penned track. Pounding drums, a funk laden bass and blazing horns combine, as the track gets underway. The rhythm section and punchy, growling horns are key to a track, which is the catchiest on the album. Later, amidst a myriad of horns, handclaps and a funky, driving rhythm section, Pharoah enters, giving one of his most impassioned and powerful solos. Behind him, his band ensures the track’s still funky and swings, with the track sounding like a party is unfolding in the studio. Searing, sizzling, screaming guitars and piano enter, as Paharoah and his band jam their way through six minutes of the tightest, funkiest music you’ll hear in a long time.

The other single released from Love Will Find A Way was As You Are, a song Norman Connors cowrote. Later, it would become a Quiet Storm classic, still popular today on Smooth Jazz radio stations today. Featuring Phyllis Hyman’s vocal talents, this is one of the album’s real highlights. Opening with flourishes of harpsichord, flute and a lone horn, what unfolds is both dramatic and beautiful. Swathes of strings and drums add drama, before on the signal of the bass, Phyllis’ vocal enters. Although powerful, it’s emotive and beautiful, accompanied by piano, cascading strings and the rhythm section. Backing vocalists are provided by The Waters Family, adding to the track’s beauty. When Phyllis’ vocal drops out, Pharoah steps up to the mark, unleashing an impassioned solo, before Phyllis reenters. She’s accompanied by a beautiful backdrop of guitars, strings, piano and later Pharoah’s soaring saxophone. This results in what’s quite simply the best, and most beautiful song on Love Will Find A Way.

Answer Me My Love sees Paul Riser arrange this familiar song in three parts. He gives the track new meaning. Opening with Bobby Lyle’s piano solo accompanied by a subtle soprano saxophone played by Pharoah, before strings and percussion enter. It’s nearly two minutes before the track changes, with drums and bass kicking in, and the track becoming more R&B tinged. Then eventually, the track changes, the track revealing its jazzy peak, where the saxophone, piano and strings and combine, before returning to its earlier gentler, more subtle sound. Here, Paul Riser gives an old track new meaning, with pianist Bobby Lyle and of course Pharoah on soprano saxophone, combining brilliantly and beautifully.

Closing Love Will Find A Way, is Everything I Have Is Good, another track Norman Connors cowrote. Again, Pharoah plays soprano saxophone, while Bobby Lyle on piano plays an important role. Norman Connors and Phyllis Hyman contribute vocals, with Phyllis’ vocal impassioned and full of sincerity and emotion.  When their vocals drop out, Bobby Lyle plays a prolonged and peerless piano solo, that’s his best solo on the album. Pharoah plays a solo above Norman’s vocal, his playing punchy and subdued, subtle even. This is just the finishing touch to a beautiful track, where Bobby Lyle and Phyllis Hyman steal the Pharoah’s crown with stellar performances.

As someone who is used to Pharoah Sanders’ usual free jazz, Love Will Find A Way came as a very pleasant and welcome surprise. It marked a revival in Pharoah’s fortunes commercially, after several lean years, that saw him down on his luck and without a record deal. He had Norman Connors and Clive Davis to thank for their leap of faith in signing him to Arista. Their leap of faith was repaid when Love Will Find A Way reached number forty-four in the US R&B Charts. This was helped by the all-star band Norman had assembled, which included Phyllis Hyman’s vocal on three tracks. The seven tracks on Love Will Find A Way are a combination of Smooth Jazz, Quiet Storm, soul, funk and the music Pharoah grew up playing R&B. On each track, Pharoah proves he hadn’t lost his chops, playing with emotion, passion, power and sometimes, tenderness. Although quite different to the music he made his name playing free jazz, Love Will Find A Way which will be rereleased by BBR Records on 23rd April 2012, is the perfect introduction to Pharoah Sanders’ music. It’s much easier on the ear for casual listeners than his frenzied free jazz. So, if you want to investigate the music of Pharoah Sanders, but are unsure where to start, then Love Will Find A Way is the perfect starting point, containing some amazing music, from Pharoah Sanders, Phyllis Hyman and Norman Connors’ all-star band. Standout Tracks: Pharomba, Love Is Here, Got To Give It Up and Love Will Find A Way.


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