PHAROAH SANDERS — Karma (review)

PHAROAH SANDERS — Karma album cover Album · 1969 · Avant-Garde Jazz Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Sean Trane
Generally regarded as one of the better or more influential Pharoah piece, Karma is a spiritual work as its title and artwork obviously indicate; somewhere stuck between Trane’s meditative realm and Sun Ra’s celestial explorations. Actually some sanders purists would prefer later albums like Black Unity, but the fact is that Sander’s explorations are still quite accessible here, despite having invited Leon Thomas’s voice to soften the experimental propos.

Only two tracks on this album, one clocking some 33-mins, a spiritual repetitive (ala turk or dervish) Master Plan, where you can’t help but thinking of Trane’s Love Supreme borrowings or influences, down to the piano and the contrabass riff. Indeed the slow evolution of this “epic” track is not exactly enthralling, but it does have some anesthetizing qualities and wrap around your ears a safety blanket through a mild spiritual trance (despite Leon Thomas’s mildly irritating chants/scats) until the Master Plan develops in a monstrous cacophonic few minutes where all hell breaks loose (from the 20-mins mark onwards), before settling back into a softer invocation of the calm after the storm. Overall, Master plan is fairly accessible, but if you’re into evolving pieces, rather than trance-induced grooves, you’re probably not going to find that much beef in Wendy’s hamburgers. Nest to that monster, the (much) shorter closing Colors is much calmer, and again calls on the Trane legacy.

Sanders’s definite step forward into his quest or drive for spiritualism and outlet for his revolt found some excellent grounds here, despite some repetitions, and he persevere in that direction a few months later with the almost-too-much Jewels of thought album, with the same frontmen (minus Spaulding’s flute), but a different “rhythm section”. In the meantime, it’s much safer to go down sanders’ route in a chronological manner and first discover the present album before proceeding to Jewels.
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