- Kenny Mathieson
- 17 January 2008
The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, Tue 29 Jan
The chance to hear jazz patriarch Pharoah Sanders in a small venue doesn’t come around often, and should be a memorable experience. He first came to wide notice when his acerbic, free-blowing saxophone work caught the attention of John Coltrane, and he was recruited to join the master on tenor in Coltrane’s own late ensembles.
It represented a major break, but eventually took him down a road which proved a dead end. He was sucked into the maelstrom in records like Ascension (1965) and Live at the Village Vanguard Again (1966), stepping stones to the even more frenetic music of Coltrane’s final years, but his own attempts to maintain that awesome level of spiritual invention ultimately floundered in repetitious re-treading of those discoveries in the 70s.
Those who wrote him off as a spent remnant of the 60s avant-garde ultimately had to think again when the saxophonist re-emerged as a respected elder statesman with a more wide-ranging, considered approach that combined modal and free inflections within a more structured frame of reference. Coltrane’s music, though, has remained a constant in his repertoire.
The resplendent flowing beard that was his trademark had vanished when he last played in Scotland, in a disappointing outing in Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket for the Triptych festival in 2002. If the look was unfamiliar, there was no doubt about who was playing. He has one of the most distinctive of signature sounds on tenor saxophone, combining a keening cry with a rich, full-bodied lustre.
That sound should be even more impressive in the close-quarters intimacy of the Voodoo Lounge. Look out too for his party-piece trick of making the horn continue to play in percussive fashion after he has stopped blowing.