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Pharoah Sanders: In the Beginning (1963-1964)

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While most of the tenor saxophonist’s landmark recordings on Impulse !-as a leader and as sideman with John Coltrane-have been reissued, Pharoah Sanders’ formative sessions with Don Cherry, Paul Bley and the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1963-64 had lain dormant until ESP opened the vaults, unleashing the embryonic fury of one of avant-jazz’s squealing shamans. For chronological purposes, this four-CD set includes Sanders’ 1964 debut for ESP, Pharoah’s First , despite the album having been remastered and reissued already. Known primarily for his pan-African forays into hypnotic percussion-driven grooves, these sessions shed some light on the development of Sanders’ vision, even though In the Beginning is less of a Sanders collection than a compendium of four of the avant-garde’s leading innovators of that era.

The first disc commences with an interview in which Sanders recalls his arrival in the Big Apple in 1962, followed by a Jan. 3, 1963 date of the Don Cherry Quintet laying down five tracks of heavily Ornette-inspired harmolodic hard bop. Sanders features prominently on two different takes of “Cocktail Piece,” his brusque and highly charged soloing setting the stage nicely for Cherry’s skating trumpet and the dynamic interplay of bassist David Izenzon and drummer J.C. Moses. For years labeled a charlatan, Sanders proves adept at mastering the bebop idiom with some surprisingly graceful playing on a Monk medley. The disc continues with a May 25, 1964 Paul Bley Quartet date, featuring Coleman stalwart Izenzon again on bass and Paul Motian on drums. The five tracks here consist of three Carla Bley compositions that merge her affinity for Bud Powell and Monk with contemporary classical concepts, giving the musicians fairly difficult terrain to travel. Sanders sounds natural in this context, maneuvering with agility and purpose, gamely sparring with Bley’s ivories and Motian’s crisp cymbal patterns.

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