Pharoah Sanders – Karma (Verve Acoustic Sounds Series)
The death of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane in the summer of 1967, caught many musicians and fans by
surprise. As with the death of Charlie Parker, another pioneering jazz saxophonist a decade earlier, many
scouted to see who would inherit the fallen legend’s mantle.
Pharoah Sanders’ third album, Karma, established him as Coltrane’s successor. A member of Coltrane’s
final ensembles, Sanders’ playing not only recalled Coltrane’s sheets of sound, but Sanders also infused
his playing with a strong spirituality.
Karma runs 38 minutes, with more than 32 of them given to “The Creator Has a Master Plan.”
Encompassing all of side one and more than half of side two, “The Creator” is a powerful piece.
Surrounded by a French horn player, flutist, two bass players, percussionist, singer and drummer,
Sanders weaves an engaging tapestry that rarely sounds busy or overwhelming. The call and response
between the flute and bass in the opening section provides a laid-back feel.
Part two is a different story. The 13-minute climax of the piece is a tempest of free jazz that is as
confrontational as part one was peaceful. Part two calms down about halfway through, but the yodeling
(Yes, really. No, it’s not as bad as you think.) and sleigh bells refuse to let your consciousness focus on
The five-minute “Colors” has the unenviable task of following “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” Leon
Thomas’ vocals take center stage here, creating a moving, hymn-like experience.
Adventurous jazz fans wondering where to go next after late-period Coltrane should definitely head
here. Karma is also a good entry point for those wishing to dip a toe in the waters of free jazz. -Joel Francis