Joy of sax: Phil Johnson on saxophonist Pharoah Sanders
Thursday 25 November 1993
When a 1980 recording of his stage favourite 'You've Got to Have Freedom' became an anthem for the rising jazz-dance scene in London, no one was more surprised than its maker. 'I heard they was dancing to it but I didn't believe it,' he said a while ago, 'so I went and put the record on and started trying to do a little step to it myself.' He showed us the step at Dingwalls, London, this week, not so much a dance as a kind of mild bunny-hop from one foot to the other.
The dancing was just about the only concession to crowd-pleasing that Sanders made, apart from occasionally rattling a skein of bells or barking out vocal 'yeahs' in the same hoarse roar as his saxophone sound.
What we got was an unimpeachably traditional acoustic jazz performance and the conventional progression of solos from Sanders' tenor sax to William Henderson's piano to Stephen Neil's double bass and back again.
Since he first came to prominence in the mid-Sixties playing with John Coltrane, Sanders has enlarged the expressive range of the tenor sax by employing various kinds of quite natural distortion.
But no one was prepared for the trick with the bowl. Picking up what looked like a mortar and pestle, he held the bowl up to the mike and it began to resonate with exactly the same kind of distortion as his sax-playing. He continued to move the bowl around until the note's decay grew ever more distant. It was still chiming faintly when the nervous laughter and applause of the crowd drowned it out. Sanders did not look happy at the interruption.
Plays Dingwalls (071-916 2200) again tonight; Brighton Jazz Bop (0273 672242) Friday; New Trinity Community Centre, Bristol (0272 550659) Sunday; Al's Music Cafe, Manchester (061 236 9971) Monday.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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