Pharoah Sanders - Karma - ElMuelle1931

Pharoah Sanders - Karma

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Audio Clarity / Russia / RE 2023 / LP,  Unofficial Release

Karma is Sanders' third recording as a leader, and is among a number of spiritually themed albums the Impulse! record label released in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Although it is followed by the brief "Colors", the album's main piece is the 32-minute-long "The Creator Has a Master Plan", co-composed by Sanders with vocalist Leon Thomas. Some see this piece as a kind of sequel to Sanders' mentor John Coltrane's legendary 1964 recording A Love Supreme (whose opening it echoes in a muscular yet lyrical opening "prelude", with Sanders playing over a suspended, non-rhythmic backdrop, before the entrance of a bass figure which underpins much of the piece). It features Sanders on tenor sax, along with two of his most important collaborators, the aforementioned Leon Thomas and pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, as well as a supporting cast of musicians who were major musicians in their own right: flautist James Spaulding; French-horn player Julius Watkins; bassist Reggie Workman, who had played with Coltrane earlier in the 1960s; second bassist Richard Davis; drummer Billy Hart, and percussionist Nathaniel Bettis. While later recorded versions of the tune, some of which featured Sanders and Thomas, became shorter and more lyrical, this original contains extended free instrumental sections, particularly the third section, where the saxophonist demonstrates some of the techniques which build his distinctive sound, including a split-reed technique, overblowing, and multiphonics, which give a screeching sound.

On the whole, however, this was quite laid-back and accessible for a free-jazz record (compared to, say, Coltrane's 1966 album Ascension), with its mantra-like chant/melody, accessible, loping groove (which has since been sampled and covered by other artists—Sanders himself re-uses it on "Heart Is a Melody of Time (Hikoro's Song)" from his album Heart is a Melody) and optimistic, spiritual lyrics. The unusual textures also give an impression of the exotic, with the employment of a French horn and flute, adding an almost orchestral tinge not often found in jazz, as well as Leon Thomas' characteristic yodelling and a variety of percussion instruments. Despite its length, it achieved mainstream FM radio airplay, surely the closest the avant-garde movement came to a "hit", apart from the cult classic A Love Supreme, and its popularity with acid jazz and hip hop artists attests to its continuing popular status. The influence of the "spiritual jazz" movement, and Sanders' involvement in particular, can be seen in Sarah Webster Fabio's 1976 lyrics to "Jujus: Alchemy of the Blues":

You prophesied the return of mandolins
and tambourines and tinkling bells,
and triangles and cymbals,
and they sided in on beams from Pharoah Sanders as I slept
taking me unaware, tripping,
blowing my mind.
—Sarah Webster Fabio, 1976