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Wisdom of the Pharoah

Pharoah
Jazz Elder: Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders

John Coltrane's spiritual heir joins forces with top masters of Indian percussion

By Nicky Baxter

PHAROAH SANDERS is a man of few words; almost all of what John Coltrane's spiritual heir has to say of real significance can be found on the rack of records he's made over the past 30-odd years. The thing is, if the tenor saxophonist chose to, he could get out his brag bag and tick off the long list of accomplishments he's achieved, beginning with his historic tours and recordings (Meditation, Ascension, Om) with Coltrane. Born in Little Rock, Ark., Sanders migrated to New York in the early 1960s, drawn to the city by the burgeoning cadre of new-bop-and-out cats like Sonny Rollins, Harold Land and Coltrane.

Now a respected elder of the music himself, Sanders has put together a string of impressive tracks. For starters, there's Karma, Thembi and Jewels of Thought, a magnificent triptych of lushly evocative soundscapes alternately flowing with Nile-like pastoralism and raging like Africa's equatorial sun. Like his mentor, Sanders has an abiding fascination with the Motherland and the surrounding regions, including India. As far back as the late '60s, this diasporan African knew to look to the East for musical (and spiritual) inspiration. A 1994 collaboration with Moroccan musicians resulted in the recording of The Trance of Seven Colors (Axiom), which pits Sanders' tenor saxophone against Maleem Mahmoud Ghania's guimbri (a basslike instrument) and a backwash of clattering percussion, hand claps and sporadic vocal interpolations.

In a rare Bay Area appearance, Sanders will be featured as a guest performer as part of the Annual San Francisco Jazz Festival Spring Benefit concert. The performance, titled "The Percussion Maestros of North and South India," brings together some of that country's finest musicians, spearheaded by Ustad Allarakha and Zakir Hussain, father-son tabla pioneers. Allarakha achieved notoriety as a longtime member of sitarist Ravi Shankar's ensembles; Hussain has followed in his father's footsteps. A child prodigy who has been compared to Italian virtuoso violinist Paganini, Hussain he has forged ties to a clutch of European musicians, most notably John McLaughlin and the Grateful Dead. This potent combination of traditional percussion sounds and avant-garde jazz is worth a trip to San Francisco.


The Percussion Maestros of North and South India takes place Sunday (May 19) at the Masonic Auditorium, California and Taylor streets, San Francisco. Tickets are $16-$30. (BASS)

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From the May 16-22, 1996 issue of Metro

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