Pharoah Sanders Quartet In Concert At Yoshi's

Regular Floydian Slips readers probably know we've been lifelong fans of jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders since first hearing Upper and Lower Egypt off of his Tauhid release. In 1999 he remarked that, due to his musical pedigree—including a stint in Sun Ra's Solar Arkestra—he had been unable to get sufficient bookings back in America. Sanders is also known for dueling horn-to-horn with the great John Coltrane. Having established all of that, we were ecstatic to finally catch up with him in concert.

(Sun Ra's Arkestra had once played Russ Gibb's Grande Ballroom in Detroit at the behest of MC5 manager and White Panther Party founder John Sinclair.)

On this tour Sanders is playing with renowned Indian tabla player Zakir Hussain, who has previously collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin on his Shakti projects and Grateful Dead drummer /percussionist Mickey Hart on several ethnomusicology endeavors. In 1991 a Planet Drum collaboration of Hart and Hussain's won a Grammy Award in the then-new Best Contemporary World Music Album.

We're fans of McLaughlin and Hart, but—not having heard too many Shakti and no Planet Drum recordings—didn't know Hussain. But two friends, Ram and Bharath, knew Hussain's music well in their home country of India, where Hussain is also a musical producer, film actor and soundtrack composer. To make things interesting, neither had ever heard of Sanders prior to joining us at Sunday's concert.

[He's] probably the best tenor player in the world.

Ornette Coleman

Bharath: I read up about Pharoah Sanders and his music on the the Internet prior to the event. Zakhir Hussain is a legend who is peerless when it comes to playing the tabla. It was because of him that I was really looking forward to the event. I wasn't sure how well Hussain and Sanders would come together playing their instruments, since it seems difficult to blend tabla music in a jazz setting. Once the concert started, it became difficult to appreciate Hussain's tabla whenever Sanders was playing. Whenever the saxophonist took breaks, however, Hussain and the rest of the ensemble were able to highlight their music. Hussain was both really energetic and innovative (using different instruments), but I left with the impression that his strength is still Hindustani or Carnatic music and not really fusion music (at least not in the jazz realm). Overall he was much better performing solo or with drummer Joe Farnsworth in this context.

Listen to these Pharoah Sanders' tracks in their entirety:

ThembiAstral TravelingUpper & Lower Egypt

Ram: I'd never seen the great percussionist Zakhir Hussain perform, but every kid in my neighborhood knew of him growing up—initially through Taj Mahal tea ads, then later by listening to him on the radio and TV. I was intrigued with the notion of jazz with tabla, not to mention a trip to the city and sushi on top of that. Yoshi's is cozy yet not too small, providing a great view from almost anywhere in the house. Starting promptly at 2 pm, after ten minutes into the matinĂ©e Sanders left the stage and each sideman got a chance to solo. Upon returning, Sanders took to vocals and his sax, inviting the audience to sing and clap to music that was absolutely captivating. He even danced on occasion! The only difficulty was in hearing Hussain's tabla, which was almost inaudible during this portion. After this the musicians soloed again, followed by a jugalbandi between Hussain and Farnsworth. All in all the show was fantastic; the only downside being that it perhaps ended too early.

Chris: Pharoah Sanders could do no wrong. If all I was able to do was to say hello and let him know of my passion for his music since first hearing it 40 years ago, that would have been sufficient. Two nights prior to the concert, I streamed a film about Neal "On the Road" Cassady from Amazon. What did the producers choose as a music bed for one scene but Sanders' Upper & Lower Egypt, from the same Tauhid album that willingly pulled me in to his music. In the way that consciousnesses inexplicably converge, I truly sensed some foreshadowing going on.

Having heard "Toots" Thielemans at the original club in Oakland, I was enthralled just to be at Yoshi's in San Francisco on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Not only did Sanders' oblige with a pre-concert photo of the two of us, I know I was smiling throughout his performance. One moment he's very melodic, then he honks a note or two reminiscent of a charging rhinoceros. A tip 'o the hat also goes to William Henderson, who provided oustanding accompaniment on piano.