Pharoah Sanders – Karma

Pharoah Sanders - Karma

Pharoah Sanders may be regarded as, without reservation, one of the greatest modern jazz musicians. His saxophone has graced the heights of recorded music, including his work with John Coltrane on the revolutionary freakout Ascension and Alice Coltrane‘s spiritual jazz masterpieces. He’s played with nearly every major jazz artist you love and he’s appeared on more records than you own. Probably.

My aim in pointing out how ubiquitous Mr. Sanders truly is in the jazz world, is that if you’re the average listener out there, you probably have yet to hear a record with his name above the title. We’re starting with an unquestionable masterpiece, Karma. Consider this a course correction on your musical journey.

Opening inside a softly hip-shaking groove with trilling flute dressing and assuredly delicate sax soloing, The Creator Has A Master Plan is a transformative journey with an enticingly swinging intro. Clocking in at 33 minutes and taking up the entire A side and most of side B on the original vinyl, it’s the reason we’re here. Mantra-like vocals enter the fray several minutes in, building towards the title phrase emphatically hopping on the beat until slipping into the melody, only to return later with a mighty force. It’s the spiritual, compulsive nature of this piece which really sets it alight upon first listen. It simply feels like the most naturally uplifting element since sunlight itself.  It’s water for a parched soul and tired ears.

And it feels alive. The saxophone doubles up with a vengeance almost halfway through and the free jazz influence becomes arrestingly tangible – yet the music never fully dips into atonal washes of soloing. Instead the rhythm section builds up around Sanders until it mushrooms into a loose cloud enveloping the now-wordless vocal chants. Bits of flute, piano, and bells jut out from the comforting haze, riding atop a tambourine-and-tom stream…  and suddenly the whole affair seems to be speeding out of control with the starbound saxophone at the helm. We’re suddenly in a jazz version of the psychedelic river tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, with Pharoah replacing Gene Wilder’s mad genius at the head of the ship. And just like in the film, everything ends okay when the rhythm section gathers itself with the able assistance of the gradually organized soloing and Leon Thomas’ warbled yelps of inspiration sprinkling in more heavenly chatter on the journey. The sheer expressiveness of the man’s instrument, it’s full breadth and depth on display throughout a blissful half hour, is enough to make anyone a believer.

Hear it for yourself:

There’s a second track, a short tune named Colors, which is a relatively relaxed workout, a pleasant comedown from the epic heights of the first. It’s essential listening, but only when it’s following the real ride. A light dessert after the nourishing masterpiece of this record, with melancholy vocals and a wistful muted brass tone, shimmering the album to a close.

Here are the full credits for the recording:

The Creator Has A Master Plan:

Bass – Reggie Workman, Richard Davis
Drums – William Hart*
Flute – James Spaulding
French Horn – Julius Watkins
Lyrics By – Amosis Leontopolis Thomas (Leon Thomas)
Music By – Pharoah Sanders
Percussion – Nathaniel Bettis
Piano – Lonnie L. Smith Jr.
Tenor Saxophone – Pharoah Sanders
Vocals, Percussion – Leon Thomas


Bass – Reggie Workman, Ron Carter
Drums – Frederick Waits
French Horn – Julius Watkins
Lyrics By – Amosis Leontopolis Thomas (Leon Thomas)
Music By – Pharoah Sanders
Piano – Lonnie L. Smith Jr.
Tenor Saxophone – Pharoah Sanders
Vocals, Percussion – Leon Thomas

You can buy Karma at amazon or cd universe or get the original vinyl lp from the legendary Impulse! label at jet set records.

6 thoughts on “Pharoah Sanders – Karma

  1. Good to see you have fixed the link. Just to let you know, Sanders did not play on ‘A Love Supreme’. The only other saxophonist on that record other than Trane was Archie Shepp. I think the first Coltrane album he played on was Meditations but I may be wrong.


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