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Pharoah Sanders/Graham Haynes: With a Heartbeat

You will get the impression that With a Heartbeat, the new release by saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and cornetist Graham Haynes, is the beginning of something major. It is hard to say what it is right now because the album only offers four songs for consumption. But there is something brewing here anyway, and that is mostly due to the presence of Sanders, the clearest living link to the late John Coltrane. On With a Heartbeat, Sanders has probably gone to some of the places that Trane would go now were he still around. But he has also gone some places that weren’t even imaginable when Trane was recording late in his life.

There is tabla percussion here as well as electric sitar and flutes. Then there is Bill Laswell, a fascinating producer with a growing reputation in many circles, who dares to challenge this talented bunch with nontraditional rhythm tracks that do their own improvisation. Then there are the heartbeats of Dr. Jean-Louis Zink, who seems to be the most important of all components at times. That is where With a Heartbeat begins, too-with Zink’s beats. And from that moment on, it is clear that this album will be another one of those hard-to-define recordings that accommodates world music, jazz traditions, individuality and group cohesion. This isn’t blues-based music either (though there is some blues here), but Sanders and Haynes are offering a sound that is clearly steeped in a constant spiritual rhythm.

“Across Time,” the opening song, seems to go on forever as it darts in and out of itself, combining Laswell’s deep, rumbling bass lines, Zink’s ever-present heart and Sanders’ magical horn play. “Across Time” is where you find Sanders with the high-pitched squeals he became famous for on his own solo work following his days with Trane. The voice work of Trilok Gurtu is the other notable ingredient here. He dominates “Alankara (Beats of the Heart)” with his voice improvisations, which proves again that the human voice is a jazz instrument of ever-expanding possibilities.

With a Heartbeat will leave you wanting more, but this is not a problem. The groundwork has been laid for more healthy explorations of this sort in the near future.

Originally Published