- by Ljubinko Zivkovic Rating:10 Release Date:1969-11-28 Label: Impulse!
Spiritual Jazz as it is called has had a number of cycles of popularity, one of the most recent being sometime now. With all the known artists that are connected with the genre, Yousef Lateef, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, John, and Alice Coltrane, to name just a few, there seems to always be a number of names that come along. This time around it is the likes of Kamasi Washington, Makaya McCraven or Jaimeo Brown.
One of the originators of the genre, luckily still around and still blowing his saxophone was a direct collaborator of the Coltranes and recorded Karma, one of the showcases of spiritual jazz. With its two tracks, it amalgamated all the strains brought by the genre’s originators and ushered in the Seventies, a period when spiritual jazz was at its height and when the largest number of releases followed Sanders’ footsteps in one way or the other.
Of the two tracks, “The Creator Has a Master Plan” is probably the best known spiritual jazz composition after John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme”, and probably one of the most coveted as such. It also seems to be the track that introduced quite a number of rock and funk musicians to the expansive sounds of spiritual jazz, some musicians actually playing with Sanders at some point or other, like Carlos Santana, Leon Thomas, the vocalist on Karma recording with Santana. On the other hand, Lonnie Liston Smith, responsible for a number of spiritual jazz-influenced light funk albums and one of the progenitors of the so-called soft jazz, actually playing on Karma.
“The Creator... is in many ways a tribute to both John and Alice Coltrane and particularly to John’s inimitable “Love Supreme”, which Sanders quotes at the introduction of the 32-minute epic, but it is an artistic quote that sticks to the essence and the soul of the composition it was inspired by, not the exact notes. It is also an expression of all the elements that comprise spiritual jazz as a genre, a fusion of different cultures and spiritual views through music, alternating from firestorms of Sanders’ saxophones and Leon Thomas’ yelping vocals in combination with oriental percussion and flutes to brief respites of more quiet, meditative moments. And as it started, it ends with a Coltrane quote and a tribute to the man Pharaoh Sanders followed and was devoted to, without imitating or at any moment turning into an imitator, but forging his own path.
“Colors” could also have been named ‘shades of...’, a more meditative piece, where Sanders shows all his playing capabilities, the ferocity it reached at moments throughout his career only matched by few players, like the late Gato Barbieri. Leon Thomas matches the meditative mood with his vocals, while the playing of Smith and the likes of master bassist Reggie Workman is simply exemplary throughout.
For those that are unfamiliar with spiritual jazz or Pharaoh Sanders, or are intrigued by the newer artists like Kamasi Washington, Karma is probably one of the best entry points to a world of limitless musical possibilities.