The Spirit of Coltrane: Pharoah Sanders & Charles Lloyd

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Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders on tenor sax.

I just read a New York Times review of a recent Pharoah Sanders show at a Williamsburg indie rock hub called Baby’s All Right. The 30-something crowd were not particularly jazz fans, but they got the message and took to Sanders’s gentle but powerful music. Besides McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders is the only remaining member of John Coltrane’s band still with us, in this case Coltrane’s final band. His sound on tenor sax has a sound so reminiscent of Coltrane’s that it’s almost spooky. And similar to fellow tenor sax player, Charles Lloyd, Sanders has always attracted a broader swath of fans than most jazz musicians tend to.

Charles Lloyd
Charles Lloyd on tenor sax.

Veteran jazz shaman Charles Lloyd’s new Blue Note album, Wild Man Dance, is his first for the label in decades. Lloyd is joined on the album by an incredible group: Gerald Clayton on piano; bassist Joe Sanders; drummer Eric Harland; Sokratis Sinopoulos playing the Greek lyra; and Miklos Lucacs on the gypsy cimbalom. In some ways the sound of Lloyd’s group reminds me of his classic “Forest Flower” suite from the 1960s.

Lloyd has always chosen powerful piano players—Keith Jarrett, Bobo Stenson, Michel Petrucciani, Geri Allen, and Jason Moran—and Clayton ranks right up there with his strong presence in this live 2013 set from Poland’s Jazztopad Festival. The festival crowd was enraptured and the applause was ecstatic. European audiences have always appreciated jazz as the great American art form.

Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane.

Both Lloyd and Sanders display their own, unique sartorial splendor, which adds to the pleasure of watching them perform. Lloyd holds his tenor like Lester Young (Charlie Haden once told me Young held his tenor that way because he often practiced while lying in bed). And there’s Sanders’s heavenward glance while a member of Coltrane’s legendary group.

Both Lloyd and Sanders have always been more than just notes: their lyricism, sound, and—most of all—their spirit align them with Coltrane’s indelible musical legacy. We should all be grateful.

Blue Note’s trailer for Charles Lloyd’s Wild Man Dance.

Pharoah Sanders’s live set at the International Jazz Festival in Germany, 2004.

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