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Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought

Pharaoh Sanders’ association with Impulse corresponded with the period during which, it seemed, the free jazz world was waiting for John Coltrane’s erstwhile proteges-Sanders, Ayler, and Shepp-to fill the void created by the master’s early departure. It was, for the most part, a depressing exercise culminating in Ayler’s death, Sanders’ disappearance from the scene, and Shepp’s move into other musical areas.

But while Shepp and Ayler both had one or two stand-out late ’60s records, Pharaoh seemed caught in a trap that snares many sidemen aspiring to be leaders: he appeared so concerned with the overall flow of things that he only rarely cut loose like he did with Trane, and even then it almost felt like he was looking over his shoulder. And the structures that his groups utilize are only superficially like the Coltrane or (early) Ayler formulae. There is an almost stubborn insistence on the simplest kind of modal simplicity.

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