Does 74-year-old Pharoah Sanders still have the magic touch? This I wondered as I entered SFJAZZ’s packed house on Friday, for Sanders' second night of a four evening engagement.
Sanders was joined by his longtime associate William Henderson on piano, bassist Nat Reed, and one of the most in-demand drummers of our time, Joe Farnsworth. As it turned out, this rhythm section fit Sanders like a well tailored dashiki.
Sanders came to prominence alongside John Coltrane in the sixties, shrieking atonal sounds in performances that were as much a religious experience as a musical event. Later in that decade, his saxophone was backed by a more calm, modal expression, with hypnotic hummable melodies on songs such as “The Creator Has A Master Plan,” “Thembi,” and “Astral Traveling.” His work with Alice Coltrane and Leon Thomas left one feeling uplifted and hopeful.
On this night, Sanders proved his earthy tenor sound remains full-bodied, his upper register cries remain relevant, and his energy remains undiminished. On “You’ve Got To Have Freedom,” drummer Farnsworth locked in the groove, over which Pharoah’s impassioned cries resonated throughout the house. Sanders showed his gentler side on ballads such as “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” and “Naima,” with Henderson and Farnsworth providing sympathetic support.
Pharoah Sanders’ performance showed that age is just a number. He still negotiates the chord changes with ease and finesse and his inner child is still very much alive!
Gary Vercelli interviewing Pharoah Sanders in 1999.