Pharoah Sanders : Save Our Children

There are producers who mold and shape recording sessions around the skills of the featured artist or bands. And there are producers who bring an artist onto their own landscape and mold that featured artist to their (the producers’) own whims. Bill Laswell is among the latter, generally engaging a rotating cast of regular collaborators, including funk keyboard man Bernie Worrell, and the usual squad of eastern percussionists, which in this case includes the distinguished East Indians Zakir Hussain and Trilok Gurtu.

The danger in this approach is that the personality of the nominal leader of the recording date, in this case Pharoah Sanders, is often lost in the producer’s vision. Such is the case with this date. From the opening bars it’s clear this is more about Bill Laswell’s vision than Pharoah Sanders. Isn’t that kinda like the child is father to the man? Pharoah is credited with tenor and soprano saxes, double reed (which one?), percussion and voice; so I gather the title track opener confines his contributions to voice? If this track were all one were to hear, one would be hard-pressed to identify this as a Pharoah Sanders date. And with a saxophonist as distinguished of voice as Sanders, this just won’t do. “Midnight in Berkeley Square,” a re-working of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” finally introduces the tenor many have come to know and love, buoyed by Alex Blake’s incessant strummed bass, but even then he is awash in trappings. If you could ever imagine Pharoah Sanders on smooth jazz radio, this might be the track. Come back Pharoah, and leave Laswell to lesser lights.