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Pharoah Sanders, Post-Coltrane

March 12, 1995|Don Heckman

PHAROAH SANDERS QUARTET

"Crescent With Love"

Evidence

* * *

SANDERS, HICKS, DAVIS, NAKAMURA: NEW YORK UNIT

"Naima"

Evidence

* * 1/2

Pharoah Sanders is an enigmatic survivor of the '60s. Arriving on the New York scene early in the decade during a period when avant-garde ideas were energizing jazz, he quickly became closely identified with John Coltrane's group--one of the era's influential creative flash points.

Sanders' recordings with Coltrane are among the most excoriatingly intense jazz encounters ever preserved, and his own work, immediately after Coltrane died, continued the pattern of impassioned improvising over complex, multi-metric rhythm sections.

In the '70s and '80s, Sanders appeared rootless, dabbling in funk, rhythm & blues and disco. More recently, he has broadened his perspective, resurveying much of the Coltrane material, while adding mainstream readings of standards and occasional flirtations with African music.

The result, well-illustrated in these two CDs, has been the emergence of Sanders as an important jazz voice. At 54, he--along with the 61-year-old Joe Henderson--makes a convincing case for the ability of older jazz players to sustain influential levels of creativity.

The albums were both recorded in 1992, within six months of each other. "Crescent" is a two-disc set that includes five Coltrane tunes among its 12 numbers. "Naima" is all standards, except for Coltrane's title tune, which is also performed on "Crescent."

Coltrane's far-reaching legacy is most apparent on "Crescent." Working with a set largely dedicated to ballads, Sanders employs soaring, Coltranesque high harmonics to both expand and carefully delineate standards such as "Misty" and "In a Sentimental Mood," and Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" (originally a feature for McCoy Tyner), "After the Rain" and the title track.

The team of William Henderson, piano; Charles Fambrough, bass, and Sherman Ferguson, drums, lays down a carpet of surging rhythm not unlike that of the Coltrane groups. This allows Sanders to dip through a wide range of playing, much of it subtle, melodic and laid-back, with the exception of a fervent examination of Coltrane's "Wise One," an unexpectedly roaring "Body and Soul" and extended soloing on "Crescent."

Sanders performs on five of the eight tracks on the somewhat less-satisfying "Naima," including the title piece, and the Coltrane-associated "Greensleeves" and "Summertime." The principal difference is in the rhythm section (John Hicks, piano; Richard Davis, bass, and Tatsuya Nakamura, drums), which plays in far more traditional straight-ahead fashion.

Sanders has considerably less cutting-edge to his sound here and plays with a more boppish inflection to his line. When he does stretch out--usually in the climactic moments of his solos--his rhythmic articulation sometimes sounds awkward and out of sync and the multiphonic accents seem out of context. Clearly this rhythm team, despite the presence of longtime associate Hicks, doesn't stimulate the kind of environment provided on "Crescent." Even so, the overall high quality of performing on this remarkable total of three CDs within six months bodes well for Sanders' continued role as a major player.

Albums are rated one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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