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Music Reissues Weekly: Pharoah Sanders Quartet - Live at Fabrik Hamburg 1980 | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: Pharoah Sanders Quartet - Live at Fabrik Hamburg 1980

Music Reissues Weekly: Pharoah Sanders Quartet - Live at Fabrik Hamburg 1980

Previously unheard live reframing of the ‘Journey To The One’ album

Pharoah Sanders in HamburgNDR

Promises attracted a lot of attention upon its 2020 release. The album brought together UK electronica artist Floating Points, The London Symphony Orchestra and storied US jazz individualist Pharoah Sanders, who died in September 2022. It became his last album. Promises – composed by Sam Sheperd in his Floating Points guise – cannot though have been conceived to be as high profile as it became.

In contrast, back in February 1978 Sanders’s Love Will Find A Way album was an explicit brush with the idea that audiences beyond his usual constituency might pick up on him. It was issued by mainstream label Arista; up to this point most of his albums were on jazz imprint Impulse! The next album was late June 1980’s two-LP set Journey To The One (pictured below left), released by the most-definitely jazz label Theresa. The crossover moment was over – until 2020, that is. Arista had to wait until 1981 for another Sanders album, and that was Beyond A Dream a live album of a July 1978 show.

Pharoah Sanders Quartet Live at Fabrik Hamburg 1980Nothing, then, is necessarily straightforward with Pharoah Sanders. After playing with Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Don Cherry and Alice Coltrane – while also issuing his own albums from 1965 onwards – the path he followed went wherever he chose. The brief brush with Arista would not pin him down to following a standard music business trajectory.

Live at Fabrik Hamburg is a previously unissued 6 June 1980 live set taped by German radio, just before the release of Journey To The One which was recorded in December 1979 and issued in the last week of June the next year. The five tracks on Live at Fabrik are “You Gotta Have Freedom”, “It's Easy to Remember”, “Dr. Pitt”, “The Creator Has a Masterplan” and “Greetings to Idris”. Excepting “The Creator Has a Masterplan”, all cropped up on Journey To The One. Billboard reviewed it, saying “this album is not for the traditional jazz buyer. Sanders dares to be different, and some of the passages he honks out are downright disturbing and unmusical”.

What’s here is where Journey To The One went after it was recorded. Even though the album hit record shops after the show, Sanders was already reframing what would be on his forthcoming release. The Hamburg audience would not have been aware of any of this.

Pharoah Sanders Journey to the OneIn Hamburg, Sanders is on tenor sax with John Hicks (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass) and Idris Muhammad (drums). Hicks and Muhammad were on most of Journey To The One; Lundy was not on the album. A fully arranged set, it had 14 players sprinkled through its tracks as well as vocalists. A key cut was a version of “It's Easy to Remember”, Rodgers and Hart’s 1930’s film song. Setting aside “The Creator Has a Masterplan”, Live at Fabrik complements and supplements Journey To The One.

When Sanders lets rip from the six-minute point in “You Gotta Have Freedom” it becomes obvious what had been recorded in the studio in December 1979 was now a baseline from which to spring off. Second up, “It's Easy to Remember” is played with no verbal introduction but it’s probable some folks there knew the tune. As the solos kick off, the crowd – assumedly – accepted that Sanders and the other players on stage were merging spontaneity with structure. After “Dr. Pitt” there is a ton of applause as Sanders introduces the players. It’s the same response while “The Creator Has a Masterplan” begins (at some points in the piece, there’s a very enthusiastic impromptu commentary from Sanders). None of the tunes are introduced. Nothing like “this is from my forthcoming album” is said.

This fascinating release undersells itself. The booklet has a brief overview of Sanders and some background info on the venue yet does not say what’s here is an alternate, stripped-down take on Journey To The One. Mystifyingly, the album is not mentioned. See this as akin to a Journey To The One bonus disc.

@MrKieronTyler

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