Boomkat Product Review:
Pharoah Sanders' painfully misunderstood 1976 spiritual jazz left turn has finally been officially reissued and remastered, with the vinyl and CD versions including two additional, tracks "Harvest Time Live", recorded in 1977. Crucial, cosmic material that opened the floodgates for a wave of ambient and new age jazz experimentation in the decades the followed.
They weren't ready for 'Pharoah' when it was originally released - the album's meditative sway of double bass, expressive low and slow sax, harmonium and gentle percussion fell on sharply critical ears, who preferred the bandleader's more virtuosic turns. Listening now, the 20-minute 'Harvest Time' sounds almost prophetic; taking inspiration from Alice Coltrane (the two had already collaborated extensively by the time this was recorded), Sanders crafts a levitational prayer that's informed by free jazz but not trapped by its aesthetic. His usual angular skronk is nowhere to be found on this opening side, lulled into a peaceful warble by Steve Neil's pointed bass plucks and Bedria Sanders' harmonium drones. And while in the mid '70s the track was considered unusual, its mostly beatless flex sounds completely in line with countless reductionist jazz exercises that have followed - most recently from artists like Nala Sinephro and Sam Gendel.
From the label:
"With Pharoah Sanders’ blessing, we present the definitive, remastered version of PHAROAH, his seminal record from 1977, in an embossed 2 LP box set. Alongside the original record, we’re including two previously unreleased live performances of his masterpiece, “Harvest Time," and a 24-page booklet with rarely seen photographs and ephemera, which tell the story of this album and this moment in Pharoah’s life in a way that has never been done before—including through interviews with many of the participants and a conversation with Pharoah himself.
For those of you who already know this record, then you know that its origin story is as elusive as Pharoah was about everything Pharoah. It was born out of a misunderstanding between him and the India Navigation producer Bob Cummins, and was recorded when he was at a crossroads in his career with an unlikely crew. Among them was a guitarist who was also a spiritual guru, an organist who would go on to co-write and produce “The Message,” and a classically trained pianist—his wife at the time, Bedria Sanders—who played the harmonium despite never having seen one. At times ambient and serene, at others funky and modal, PHAROAH radically departed from his earlier work. And it became beloved.
Last fall, we were working with Pharoah on this project when he unexpectedly passed away. At first, it was hard to know what to do. We loved him, and the reason you do all of this is not solely for the music, but also for the person who made it. It’s their personality, their humor, and their wishes that drive you forward. So, we decided to go deep into the research. We set out to create something that showed Pharoah and his music in a new light. For seasoned listeners and new acolytes both, Pharoah will never sound the same."