(Astral) Travelling With Pharoah Sanders / A Personal Journey With The Prince Of Peace

Black Unity was the first Pharoah Sanders record that I bought. The first piece of his music that I heard. I picked it up, a cut-out, from one of the shops in London’s Soho, one of the stores on or around Berwick Street. It was Andrew Weatherall who made me do it. 

Rob Pharoah black unity

There was an interview where the sorely missed DJ / producer recounted a tale of like minds, and coincidence, linked to his work on Primal Scream’s Screamadelica. So I suppose this must have been in around 1991. Recalling how he’d been on the phone to Bobby G, explaining that he thought the song, I’m Coming Down, needed some Pharoah Sanders sax, to which the frontman replied that he’d just returned from shopping with a bag full of Pharoah`s LPs. Based on this anecdote, Black Unity wasn’t anything like what I was expecting. I was left reeling by its racing, and roaring. To someone unschooled it felt both angry and celebratory. The relentless righteous cacophony like the aural equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting. 

Rob Pharoah Best Of

It wasn’t until I found a very battered “Best Of”, most definitely from the legendary second-hand store, Reckless, that I could really make the connection between the coda of The Scream`s ode to the introspective flip side of E`s up, the second summer of love`s wave crashing, and spiritual stuff like Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah.

Rob Pharoah Thembi

Much, much later, I learned that the Sander`s track that had influenced Weatherall and Gillespie was in fact, Astral Travelling, from Thembi. Something that Andrew revealed on a BBC radio show, The Music That Made Screamadelica, in 2010. I didn’t score a copy until its 2018 reissue.

Rob Pharoah Jazz Juice

Rob Pharoah Journey

Jumping back to the 1990s, after a stint in Chelsea & Westminster hospital, followed by a bout of enforced abstinence and some significant lifestyle changes, I sold 1000s of techno, trance, and progressive house 12s, and attempted to reinvent myself as jazz and world music aficionado / nerd / gonk. I subscribed to both The Wire and Straight No Chaser, and diligently dissected every past issue that I could find. Hand-in-hand with this re-education / realignment went the purchase of Gilles Peterson`s Jazz Juice compilations – which had just been repressed as three double-packs. I`m not gonna pretend that I had the mid-80s OGs. On #3 is You’ve Got To Have Freedom. If I was pushed to choose a Pharoah favourite, well, this would be it. A chorus of collective joy created and captured on vinyl. There`s an incendiary version on the LP, Africa, but the take from 1980`s Journey To The One is the jazz-dance classic. Wherever I played it, either to audiences at Islington`s Medicine Bar, or stoned out of my gourd at The Lizard`s nearby mansion, it never failed to get people cheering, dancing, out of their seats. Whenever it spins it still sounds like a truly swinging triumph of the spirit. It`s one of those super rare songs that puts a smile on everyone’s face. Listening will convince you that we can win. I saw Pharoah perform this live, at Camden`s Jazz Cafe, the gig building from ringing Tibetan bowls, and it really was a moment. 

Rob Pharoah Terry

I saw a similarly moving Jazz Cafe set from Terry Callier – one of the first dates that I had with my wife to be. Pharoah had just guested on Terry`s album, Timepeace. 

Rob Pharoah Olatunji

Pharoah came up with so many jazz greats, from Don Cherry to Ornette Coleman and Sun Ra, and was on stage for John Coltrane`s last live recording. An unbelievable – especially since this was 1967 – riot of noise. Released on CD in 2001, I was quite into noise, and catharsis, at the time. 

Rob Pharoah Wobble

Pharoah wasn’t afraid to experiment with the odd post-punk funker either. Working with Bill Laswell and Jah Wobble he helped to produce the seismic Heaven & Earth. It`s no secret that I’m a huge Wobble nut. Gone To Croatan was one of the last records I cued-up in Croydon, as I drank, got sentimental, and boxed up my collection, ready to be shipped to Japan. 

Rob Pharoah Leon

I guess one of Pharoah`s most loved collaborations was with vocalist Leon Thomas. In 1998, Soul Brother Records, released a Leon anthology, which introduced me to the simply sublime Sun Song. A tune that I dropped at both of The Lizard`s weddings. Something so happy, heartfelt, honest, and pure, that all you can do is stop, shut your eyes, maybe shuffle, surrender in wonder and awe. Dream, wish, for its 6 minutes that a better, fairer, world exists. There`s a hint of sadness there, perhaps in the knowledge that all things must pass. Shit, goodness knows that I can be a moody fucker, but Pharoah`s music always, always, fills me with peace, possibility, and hope. 

Rob Pharoah Promises

Last year, alongside Floating Points, Pharoah led The London Symphony Orchestra through the perfect Promises for Luaka Bop. A landmark achievement, and one of the musical highlights of 2021. Mr. Sanders had lost none of his poetry, or power. 

I`ve also got a copy of 1977`s Pharoah somewhere. One of the recent reissues. I’m not sure if it`s legit. It was one of the last tunes that I used to test the Klipschorn-ed system in the tatami-matted chill out room at Bar Bonobo, but today, I can`t find it. The version of Love Will Find A Way on there is a trip. 

Pharoah Sanders, thank you for the music. Rest In Peace. 

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