Confession: I don’t know as much about jazz as I should. I do consider myself a music nerd, but my collection of jazz records consists of a handful of excellent staples (Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, John Coltrane’s Meditations and A Love Supreme, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, and compilations from Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, and Joao Gilberto), and I have a good idea as to who is important in the field. Pharoah Sanders is a name that I know from other artist’s referencing him as an influence more than anything else. That, and he played on Coltrane’s Meditations, which, in my own humble opinion, is one of the greatest pieces of art created by mankind.
So, a few days ago, I walked past Yoshi’s in Jack London Square and noticed Pharaoh Sanders was performing. I thought about it for about a day or so, and realized that I should see him. I mean, he’s been around for such a long time, the ticket price was quite reasonable ($26 for the late show), and I’d kick myself for missing this. I’ve also never seen this style of jazz performed live, so I figured this was, at the very least, a way to expand my horizons, if you will.
We get in line at 9:30 to find that Sanders’ early set is still going on. And, no, he didn’t start late. From what I’ve gathered from the staff, you simply don’t tell a man to stop when he’s locked in on a groove. It wasn’t until shortly after 10 that he decided he was finished. The staff at Yoshi’s quickly reset the room to get the late show audience in. Within about 10 minutes, every seat was filled and the band was back on stage.
The band, consisting of William Henderson on piano, Joe Farnsworth on drums, and Nat Reeves on bass, locked into a fun, bouncy groove. After about five or so minutes of “jamming”, Sanders popped out of a side door, and played his way onto the stage. Yes, his moves were a little stiff, as he is 74 years old, so you simply aren’t very flexible. His tone, however, was superb. Yes, he looked his age, and moved like a man his age, but, on the sax, he sounded great!
I’m not really sure of the “tracks.” The show felt more like a journey through sound than a series of pieces. There were bouncy periods, there were periods of pure beauty, there were periods bordering on classical music, and they even experimented in African and Middle Eastern melodies. Sanders and bassist Reeves both managed to sound like they were playing forwards and backwards. Stongberg was a ridiculous drummer, doing some amazingly experimental stuff like playing the bass drum with brushes and playing every single part of the drum kit, not just the head. The amount of talent on stage was mind blowing! It was like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard. This was some epic musicianship that oozed of both technical skill and enthusiasm in a way that no rock musician is capable.
This was an amazing evening, and I would definitely do this again.
Pharoah Sanders Quartet is playing tonight at Yoshi’s Oakland at 7 PM.