Pharoah Sanders, Barbican, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Time seems also to have stood still for the support band, the African Jazz All-Stars, a multi-country unit led by guitarist Lucky Panku that even has a fine violinist from Cuba, Omar Puente, on board: their riff and melody repetition style, perfectly tailored for dancing, seemed peculiarly inapt for a seated audience. Even the band's singer, Pinise Saul, lamented at one point that it was a pity there was not enough space in the hall for the audience to dance.

After the interval, Sanders, with his quartet tuned very much to jazz of the 1950s and 1960s, had no such problems. Opening with a ravishing and stylistically faithful rendering of John Coltrane's 1965 ballad "Welcome", he had the crowd spellbound. His pianist, William Henderson, dressed in black apart from flame-red shoes, delivered a perfect approximation of Coltrane pianist McCoy Tyner's rippling ballad style, as bassist Nathaniel Reeves and drummer Joseph Farnsworth played as one.

Sanders, once the wailing banshee of a musical revolution, was showing himself to be an old softie today, his romanticism as wide and deep as his huge tenor tone. His next selection had the tempo of a greyhound. Never a player too much concerned with the bebop approach to rhythm, Sanders sprayed huge ribbons of sound around the auditorium, playing patterns at will, in defiance of the flat-out speed being generated behind him. He left the rest to Henderson to sort out in a perfectly articulated solo. After bass and drums solos, the theme was raced through, then we were back to earth.

This was announced by Sanders' saxophone taking up the theme of "Say It (Over and Over Again)", the first selection on John Coltrane's Ballads album of 1962. All the love and devotion Coltrane's one-time disciple has for his mentor was poured into this reading of the pretty Frank Loesser-Jimmy McHugh song, and at its conclusion the audience could be forgiven for feeling they'd been ravished by a master.

In case anyone was still obtuse enough to have missed the connection, Sanders ended the evening with "My Favourite Things", the Richard Rodgers song that had made Coltrane such a crossover star in 1961. At its conclusion, the crowd exploded in exultation and Sanders, who had been impassive throughout, delivered a "Hi-Life" encore of his own that had him singing and dancing the twist in sheer delight.

Comments