Label: Impulse! – A-9138, ABC Records – AS-9138
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, Stereo / Country: US / Released: 1968
Style: Free Jazz, Free Improvidation
Recorded At Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 11/15/66.
Design – Robert Flynn
Design [Liner] – Joe Lebow
Photography By – Charles Stewart
Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder
Liner Notes – Nat Hentoff
Producer – Bob Thiele
Matrix / Runout (Side A): AS 9138 A LW
Matrix / Runout (Side B): AS 9138 B LW
Matrix / Runout (Side A + B): VAN GELDER (Stamped)
A-9138 on sleeve. AS-9138 on labels and runout. Black and red ABC Impulse! labels 1968.
"A Product Of ABC Records, Inc. New York, N.Y. 10019 Made in USA" on bottom perimeter of label.
A - Upper Egypt & Lower Egypt ................................................................ 16:30
B1 - Japan .................................................................................................... 3:29
B2 - Aum / Venus / Capricorn Rising ...........................................................14:52
Pharoah Sanders – alto sax, tenor sax, piccolo flute, vocals
Warren "Sonny" Sharrock – guitar
Dave Burrell – piano
Henry Grimes – bass
Roger Blank – drums, percussionNat Bettis – percussion
A - Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt
The album opens with a collective meditation. Tympani(?), cymbal smashes, Sharrock's new approach to post-Coltrane ballad guitar, twangy and shuddering, Burrell as chordal colourist - a group - sound - and - feel -, not the soloist as free individual striving to be the lone voice...
A brief Henry Grimes bass solo - again concerned with textures and sounds, with the bass's properties as means of producing sound, with timbre and quality, with woozy arco rather than the melodic, horn-like role of La Faro or Gomez with Bill Evans.
Now Sanders' enters for the first time. His delayed entry could be said to either downplay or enhance the individual leader role I hinted at in the first paragraph: by waiting so long, his entry becomes more expected ("this album is under his name - where is he?"), more hoped for, perhaps - but at the same time the delay is a way of saying "you don't - need - to hear me straightaway - these other guys are important too." Playing piccolo, rather than sax, he vocalises through the instrument while playing, as he does on 'To Be', the flute/piccolo duet with Coltrane on 'Expression'. An 'exotic' and still striking sound, it could have become a novelty effect if Sanders had chosen to over-deploy it, but this and 'To Be' are the only recorded instances, I think. Needless to say, it's effect is a little different to Roland Kirk's use of similar techniques...
Drum ritual, low-toned. Almost nine minutes in, and Grimes is about to solo again - no, instead he locks in and begins to build the famous groove that will underpin the rest of the track (I guess we've reached 'Lower Egypt')... In itself, with the emphasis on rhythm (the players' truly functioning as 'rhythm section' here!), this could be seen as part of the 'back to Africa' movement - although (I speak from a position of relative ignorance), with a simplified, totalizing effect that downplays the complexities of actual African tribal music.
And Pharoah's solo, though brief, has such impact. For reasons of context perhaps: it's the first time he's let rip on sax, indeed, the first time we've heard him play sax at all on the album. Once again, the employment of the delaying/ waiting tactic - "that groove's been going on for - three minutes - now - what the hell is going on?" You're about to find out - Pharoah, first, echoing the groove line, three times playing the riff, then some repeated figure, now a note, first clean, now overblown - then, suddenly, WHAAARGH! WHAAARGH! WHAAARGH! I find it hard to restrain a physical reaction to those overblown whorfs of sound when I hear them. They seem so inevitable, so right - so truly the sound of a man as himself, as one with his instrument, as looking at his true centre, his true self. From the liner notes, his quotes resonate: "I don't really see the horn anymore. I'm trying to see myself. And similarly, as to the sounds I get, it's not that I'm trying to scream on my horn, I'm just trying to put all my feelings into the horn. And when you do that, the ntoes go away[...] Why [do] I want clusters [of notes]? So that I [can] get more feeling, more of me, int oevery note I play. You see, everything you do has to mean something, has to be more than just notes. That's behind everything I do - trying to get more ways of getting feeling out."
The subdued vocals that follow, might be a little underwhelming on their own, but are perhaps a necessary coming down, back to earth, back to the groove, to melody, after that solo...
B1 - Japan
At just over three minutes, this is quite clearly an 'interlude' between the two long tracks. Chugging bells and a stately promenade beat, Grimes mixing things up a little by alternating affirmative on-the-beat plucks with melodic counterpoint that goes in a slightly different direction. Sanders then sings the melody a few times, Grimes takes what I suppose one might call a short solo, then it ends.
B2 – a) - Aum
Pharoah had been here before, participating in Coltrane's 'OM' from 1965 (about which, see 'Circling Om', Simon Weill's superb article, available on the All About Jazz website). Things aren't nearly as terrifying here, though this is probably the freest section of the album. Lick-spit-riddling cymbals and hit-hat keep the sound tight, Grimes' immediately perplexing it with fast free walking, Burrell adds boxy ominous chords, then Sanders comes in, sribbling away on alto while Roger Blank switches to the more forceful toms. Off-mike for a moment, we might suppose Pharoah to be in an eye-closed calisthenics of ecstasy; he roils up and down, his tone vocal and gruff (though not as powerful as on tenor). Sawing, see-sawing up and down in motions that lead to a - strain - for volume and air, at the end, of those long notes held before the next darting rally. Highest in the mix behind the sax are the drums - the recording isn't great (they really should release a new mix of the album), but your ear can just about pick up Sonny Sharrock raging behind the Pharoah. Imagine the sonic experience if this had been better recorded! These guys truly had power behind their sound, it was - frightening - ...
B2 – b) - Venus
Sounds like they suddenly turned Sharrock up in the mix because they thought he was going to solo - as it is, Pharoah comes back in almost immediately, on tenor, but we do get to hear a precious few seconds of that guitar squall. Sanders' tone just - radiates - spirituality - later on, perhaps he traded on that a bit too much (by playing even just melodies he could convince), but here the utter sincerity is captivating, the vitality of being and the living of life in sound. Shakers and cymbals, strummed repeated bass notes and finally piano runs that prefigure Lonnie Liston Smith's harp-like arpeggios on 'Hum-Allah'. One might also note that 'Aum/Venus/Capricorn Rising' has the concision 'Hum-Allah' lacks. The three-part structure focusses things, prevents over-reliance on just one groove, one vibe. Sanders' playing of the melody, and variants on it, are the main focus here; either Sharrock's not playing, or he's just really undermiked - I guess guitar in avant-jazz wasn't really too common at the time; maybe producer Bob Theile just didn't know how to deal with it.
B2 – c) - Capricorn Rising
'Capricorn Rising' seems to be a variation on the melody of 'Venus', no less sublime. It's as if Pharoah taps into this stream of melody which is that of the universe - he takes a little fragment, puts it in barlines, turns it into a melody of its own - self-sufficient, but part of a greater whole. And I guess that's the essence of jazz improvisation too - endless variation, and sometimes that reality can include what we'd term noise, fearsome sounds of overblown shrieks - all part of Pharoah's 'Journey to the One'. Earth-bound for transcendence, Pharoah's playing here acknowleges difficulty and struggle; indeed, it - incorporates - them into lyricism, rather than retreating into the slightly drippy peace-and-love sentiment, as with 'The Creator Has a Masterplan'...
So, where does that love 'Tauhid' as a whole? Well, it shows that, for all their reputations, free jazzers wrote damn good tunes... At a relatively brief 34:20, Tauhid has all the elements which characterised Sanders' astral excursions—explicit spiritual references, vocal chants, a rolling bass ostinato, "exotic" percussion, out-there but lyrical tenor saxophone, and extended vamp-based collective jamming—and crucially, was played by an edgier and more challenging band, including guitarist Sonny Sharrock and pianist Dave Burrell, than was assembled for Karma. The later album was made by a distinctly more blissed-out line-up, lacking Sharrock, in which the comfort-zone pianist Lonnie Liston Smith and vocalist Leon Thomas figured large.
Over the next few years, Lonnie Liston Smith, already worryingly jazz-funkish on Karma, played a key role on Sanders' albums, which became increasingly codified and formulaic. In retrospect, the first cut was indeed the deepest, and for many devotees Tauhid remains Sanders' finest (half) hour.
_Rewiew By – DAVID GRUNDY
If you find it, buy this album!