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Rest in Peace Pharoah Sanders

By Marc Zisman |

John Coltrane's protégé, the great tenor saxophonist and a key player in the free music scene has died at the age of 81...

Pharoah was a scream. A hurricane certainly, but a cry above all. A cry that captured a certain John Coltrane, with whom the saxophonist, who passed away on September 23rd 2022, in Los Angeles, played with from September 1965 until Coltrane's death two years later. Jazz back then was in reverse, and the seismographs of free music were in full swing. From 1964 onwards, Sanders was recording in his own corner of jazz, long before his master began to regularly include these tidbits in the last recordings of his life. His most agitated recordings. The most controversial. The most inhabited. The most beautiful perhaps that John Coltrane will bequeath. Could this be the influence of Pharoah?

Pharoah's cry became those unique exclamation points in the music. Those shaggy riffs marked out a flow that is always full of meditative energy. Even when this cry becomes a whisper, it remains powerful and spiritual at the same time... For Coltrane, this tenor was rare and necessary. "Pharoah is a man of infinite spirituality, always striving for truth. I love the power of his playing so much. He is a great innovator, and it is a pleasure and a privilege that he agrees to help me and to be a member of the group. He has drive and spirit, two qualities I love most in people."

When John Coltrane died, Pharoah Sanders stayed close to Alice Coltrane, the mythical and mystical widow, pianist and harpist. With or without her, on his solo recordings, the semantics of his tenor always drew a long thread between heaven and earth, an avant-garde trance, a lyrical tsunami. Sanders maintained this tradition of wandering, of inner reflection, and this inspiration of hard, hard, hard rebellion. And yet he keeps his freshness... He did not hesitate to enrich his music with sounds and instruments from Africa, Asia and the East. At the time, we were not yet talking about world music, but his music was indeed world music. Worlds even. Some of his albums will remain as superb testimonies of this vision, such as Thembi, Black Unity, Tauhib or Karma.

Until the end of his life, Pharoah Sanders did not really mellow out. The New Thing seems far away... Yet the tone was always libertarian as his musical storm alternated between fury and sensitivity. He was the master from then on, because, as another free music legend, Albert Ayler, liked to say, "Coltrane was the father, Pharoah the son". The younger generation discovered this son in 2021 with the album Promises that Pharoah had put together with the electro producer Sam Shepherd, alias Floating Points, and the strings of the LSO (London Symphony Orchestra). A magical and mysterious last opus, and above all, out of the box, like his career...