CULT CLASSIC: PHAROAH SANDERS-WELCOME TO LOVE.
Cult Classic: Pharoah Sanders-Welcome To Love.
By the time Pharoah Sanders began recording Welcome To Love on the ‘17th’ of July 1990, at Studio Gimmick, Yerres, France, the American saxophonist and pioneer of free jazz was fifty, and was signed to the Dutch independent label, Timeless Records.
Pharoah Sanders debut for his new label was Moon Child, a much more traditional jazz album which featured ruminative and contemplative sounding tracks and was released in 1989. This was very different to the albums of blistering avant-garde and free jazz which feature his overblowing, harmonic, and multiphonic techniques. While this might not have pleased his longterm fans, Moon Child was a much more accessible album that had the potential to introduce Pharoah Sanders’ music to newcomers.
So had the followup, Welcome To Love, which was a similar sounding album. It was recorded by the quartet Pharoah Sanders led during three days in July of 1990. This was the latest chapter in the story of Pharoah Sanders’ career.
Born Farrell Sanders, in Little Rock, Arkansas, in October 1940, Pharoah Sanders’ career began in Oakland, California. That’s where the tenor saxophonist made his professional debut, playing in local blues and R&B bands. It’s also where Pharoah developed and honed his distinctive style. However, as the fifties drew to a close, Pharoah Sanders wanted to widen his horizons and headed to New York.
Initially, his time in New York wasn’t the happiest of his life. He was homeless, reduced to sleeping on the streets, under stairs or just about anywhere warm and dry. With his clothes reduced to rags, many a lesser man would’ve headed home. However, Pharoah Sanders wasn’t about to give up on his dream of making a living as musician. His persistence paid off when he met another Sun Ra.
Not only did Sun Ra give him a place to stay and bought him some new clothes, but brought him into his band. This was just the start of Pharoah Sanders’ career. Then in 1964, Pharoah Sanders released his debut album Pharoah’s First, on ESP Disk. A year later, he joined John Coltrane’s band where he came to the attention of a much wider audience.
It was during the two years he spent as a member of John Coltrane’s band, that he perfected his sheets of sound technique. Pharoah Sanders was best known for his overblowing, harmonic and multi-phonic techniques and was the perfect addition to John Coltrane’s band.
He played on albums like Ascension, Meditation and Om and playing alongside ‘Trane was a musical apprenticeship worth its weight in gold. Sadly, John Coltrane’s career was cut short, when he died in July 1967, aged just forty. Having learnt from the master, Pharoah Sanders returned to his solo career.
During his time playing with John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders had released two solo albums, 1965s Pharoah and 1966s Tauhid, which his debut for Impulse!. It was at Impulse! where he released the best music of his career. Just like before, Pharoah Sanders split his time between his solo career and accompanying some of the giants of jazz. Among the artist he accompanied, were Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner and Don Cherry, and collaborated with Terry Callier, Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman. Between 1969 and 1974, Pharoah Sanders was prolific as he divided his time between his solo career and working as sideman.
In 1969, Pharoah Sanders recorded an album for the Chicago-based. This was Izipho Zam (My Gifts), which wasn’t released until 1973. By then, Pharoah Sanders had released some of the best music of his career during the Impulse! Years.
The Impulse! Years.
Having signed to Impulse!, Pharoah Sanders released Karma, an album of spiritual jazz in May 1969. It found the pioneering saxophonist fusing avant-garde, free jazz, Indian and African music on album that was called innovative and progressive.
Jewels Of Thought.
So was Jewels Of Thought, which was released by Pharoah Sanders in October 1969. It featured an all-star band that included Leon Thomas, Lonnie Liston Smith, Cecil McBee and Idris Muhammad, and is an oft-overlooked album in Pharoah Sanders’ back-catalogue. This was the last album he released during the sixties, and as the seventies dawned, he continued to create groundbreaking music and push musical boundaries to their limits.
Summun Bukmun Umyun.
1970 saw Pharoah release one of his most ambitious and spiritual albums. Summun Bookman Umyun or Deaf Dumb and Blind, was influenced by African music. The album is an exploration of faith, spiritual truth and enlightenment. Deaf Dumb and Blind are the “non-believers,” those who have rejected faith. Joining Lonnie Liston Smith and Cecil McBee were Gary Bartz and Woody Shaw. They played their part in what critics called an ambitious album of spiritual music.
Sadly, critics didn’t say the same thing about the followup, Thembi, which is an underrated album and one of three Pharoah Sanders released during 1971. It was a quite different album to his previous albums. Gone were the lengthy jams which were replaced by shorter much more concise tracks that were breezy and uptempo. Pharoah Sanders and his band played an eclectic selection of instruments as they fused avant-garde, experimental music and free jazz during the two recording sessions.
This resulted in the criticism that Thembi didn’t flow, and instead, seemed like parts of two albums. That was unfair as Thembi which was a transitional album for Pharoah Sanders as he tried new instruments and techniques. However, one thing never changed, and that was that the music was inventive and captivating, just like on previous albums. So was the other album he released during 1971, Black Unity.
When Black Unity was released in December 1971, it marked the end of era as Pharoah Sanders decided to change tack. He decided to innovate rhythmically and concentrated on the groove.
To do this, he brought onboard younger musicians, who could fuse Afrobeat, funk, free jazz, avant-garde and experimental music during a thirty-seven minute track. His front line played their part in what was heralded as an innovative as they pushed musical boundaries to their limits, sometimes, even way beyond. The result was a musical melting pot, that produced a mesmeric, hypnotic, genre-melting, groove-laden album that was one of Pharoah Sander’s finest albums. Despite this, in 1972, he returned briefly, returned to being a sideman and released two more albums.
Pharoah Sanders had featured on Alice Coltrane’s 1971 album Journey In Satchidanada. A year later, in 1972, he returned and played on the followup Ptah, The El Daoud which was released to critical acclaim. Meanwhile, Pharoah Sanders solo career continued.
Live At The East.
When Pharoah Sanders played at The East, in New York, in 1971, he was joined by an all-star band that included Stanley Clarke, Cecil McBee and Norman Connors. As the band took to the stage the tapes were running as they ran through Healing Song, Memories Of J. W. Coltrane and Lumkil during a forty-three minute set. It was an impassioned performance that was released to critical acclaim in 1972.
Wisdom Through Music.
The other album Pharoah Sanders release during 1972 was Wisdom Through Music. It was well received by critics, who thought that this golden period that Pharoah Sanders was enjoying would continue for the foreseeable future. How wrong they were.
In 1973, Pharoah Sanders left Impulse! after recording and releasing some of the best music of his career.
Love In Us All.
This included Love In Us All, which was released during 1972 and 1973, and included two extended, groundbreaking compositions Love Is Everywhere and To John. They were an aural representation of the way Pharoah Sanders believed that his music divided the opinion of critics and connoisseurs of jazz. When the album was released it was to plaudits and praise, unlike the other album Pharoah Sanders released during 1973.
Village Of The Pharoahs.
This was Village Of The Pharoahs which was recorded at sessions held during 1971, 1972 and 1973. When its was released in 1973, critics felt there wasn’t the same spontaneity as previous album and the music failed to flow. Critics wondered why? Some wondered if it was because the album featured a new band? Others wondered if its was because he played tenor saxophone on one track? For the rest of the album he played soprano saxophone, and added some vocals on Village Of The Pharoahs. Although critics regraded it as a disappointing album compared to previous releases, they thought that stylistically, it was like a return to his earlier albums. It was the penultimate album that Pharoah Sanders released on Impulse!.
Pharoah Sanders’ swansong for Impulse! was Elevation, which was released in 1974. It was a fusion of Afrobeat, avant-garde, free jazz, post bop and progressive jazz and although it was well received, Elevation didn’t receive the same critical acclaim as previous albums. Part of the problem was free jazz was no longer as popular and was perceived as yesterday’s music. With musical tastes changing, record buyers missed out on an ambitious, bold, innovative and progressive album that brought to an end Pharoah Sanders’ Impulse! years.
He was without a record deal, and 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.
The Arista Years.
He 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 being able to play, Norman Connors replaced him. After this, Norman Connors and Pharoah Sanders 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 Sanders was living in, and realized how their careers had taken quite different paths Norman Connors 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, and Pharoah Sanders who then signed a recording contract with Arista.
This saw Pharoah Sanders leave his rundown flat in New York, as he headed to California where he recorded two albums for Arista. The first was 1977s Love Will Find A Way which reached number forty-one on the US R&B Charts. This marked a change in Pharoah Sanders fortunes commercially.
The following year, 1978, Pharoah Sanders retrained with his second album for Arista, Beyond A Dream. However, the album failed to find an audience and not long after this, Pharoah Sanders left Arista. However, three years later, Arista released the live album Beyond A Dream. By then, a new chapter was unfolding for Pharoah Sanders.
Just seven years after leaving Impulse!, which was one of the greatest labels in jazz history, Pharoah Sanders released his first album for Theresa Records. This was the double album Journey To The One, which was released in 1980. It was followed in 1981, by Rejoice, a captivating double album that was one of Pharoah Sanders’ finest albums for Theresa Records.
He returned in 1982 with another Pharoah Sanders Live and Heart Is A Melody in 1983. It featured drummer Idris Muhammad, while Andy Bey, Deborah McGriff and Jes Muir were among the vocalists on Heart Is a Melody of Time (Hiroko’s Song). It’s one of the highlights of the album which is a hidden gem in Pharoah Sanders’ back-catalogue.
Two years later, Pharoah Sanders returned with Shukuru, in 1985. At times, the album harked back to his Impulse! years, and other times, it seemed that he was paying homage to his mentor John Coltrane and sometimes, sounded like him. However, Pharoah Sanders time at Teresa Records was almost at an end.
A Prayer Before Dawn was released in 1987, and brought to an end another chapter in the career of Pharoah Sanders.
After leaving Teresa Records, Pharoah Sanders released one album for the Doctor Jazz label. This was Oh Lord, Let Me Do No Wrong in 1987. Next stop for Pharoah Sanders was Timeless Records.
Pharoah Sanders debut for Timeless Records was Moon Child, which was released in 1989. It was an album where new compositions and standards rub shoulder on what was a much more traditional jazz album. Moon Child featured ruminative and contemplative sounding tracks and showed a different side to Pharoah Sanders. While this may have disappointed some of his fans, it was a much more accessible album that had the potential to introduce Pharoah Sanders to a much wider audience. So would the followup Welcome To Love.
Welcome To Love.
Recording of Welcome To Love began on the ‘17th’ of July 1990, at Studio Gimmick, Yerres, France. Joining Pharoah Sanders who switched between tenor and soprano saxophone, were drummer Eccleston W. Wainwright Jr, bassist Stafford James and pianist William Henderson. They recorded a mixture of standards and the Pharoah Sanders’ composition The Bird Song, over the next three days.
Three of the standards had been recorded by John Coltrane. This included two tracks from his 1961 album Ballads. They were You Don’t Know What Love Is which opened the album, and Nancy (With The Laughing Face), while Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes featured on ‘Trane’s 1960 album Coltrane.
Other tracks included the Hoagy Carmichael and Ned Washington composition The Nearness Of You; Guy Wood an Robert Mellin’s My One and Only Love; Billy Eckstine’s I Want to Talk About You and Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s Polka Dots and Moonbeams. They were joined by Frank Loesser and Jimmy McHugh’s Say It (Over and Over Again); J. J. Johnson’s Lament and John Blackburn and Karl Suessdorf’s Moonlight In Vermont which closed the album which was produced by Russ Musto and Tetsuo Hara and was completed on the ‘19th’ of July 1990.
When Welcome To Love was released in 1991, Pharoah Sanders continued to reinvent his music. Pharoah Sanders’ eschewed his trademark sheets of sound and overblowing. Instead, his music was much more subtle and understated on what critics called a much more traditional jazz album. It feature a much gentler, understated sound on an album that was a tribute to John Coltrane’s 1961 album Ballads.
On Welcome To Love, Pharoah Sanders plays within himself, and chooses each note with the utmost care. His plays with a subtlety and there’s a serene sound to the music which has a much more subtle and understated sound. It was what some critics called a much more traditional jazz album. There were no detours via avant-garde nor free jazz on an album where the music was variously beautiful, emotive and tugged at the listener’s heartstrings. Other times, the music was melancholy, wistful and sometimes was ruminative and invited reflection. Pharoah Sanders was certainly in a reflective mood during as he was homesick during the recording. Despite that, there’s a warmth to the music on Welcome To Love, which is a beautiful album of what’s often referred to as “straight up” jazz from a musical master craftsman Pharoah Sanders.
Despite being released to critical acclaim upon its release in 1991, Welcome To Love wasn’t a commercial success and nowadays, it’s a rarity. This oft-overlooked album is one of the hidden gems Pharoah Sanders’ back-catalogue. That’s not all.
Welcome To Love shows another side to one of the legends of jazz, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders who throughout his career continued to reinvent his music. That was case during his time with Timeless Records when he released Welcome To Love a beautiful and sometimes ruminative sounding album that is perfect late night listening for those in love and those who have loved and lost and have lived to tell the tale.
Cult Classic: Pharoah Sanders-Welcome To Love.