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Pharoah Sanders-Karma ALBUM REVIEW

Written Before Review

Some sad news came out recently, Unfortunately, jazz legend Pharoah Sanders passed away at the age of 81. Not too long ago, he was part of big jazz and classic release with Promises with Floating Points and The London Symphony Orchestra. He was a pioneer of spiritual jazz and it’s just necessary to cover one of the most essential releases in the genre, without further ado, let’s get into it.

Guest Musicians

Let’s start with Pharoah himself, the saxophone player and composer of the album. His saxophone work has always been very chaotic, free yet contained, and this album is not shying away from that. Leon Thomas is the vocalist and percussion player on the album. The way he delivers the vocals on this album gives it the accessibility as well as the spiritual liftoff that Pharoah tried to accomplish. Julius Watkins is the French horn player who has done work for Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus and if you know anything about jazz, you know those are the big 3. Reggie Workman is a bassist who worked a lot with Coltrane but also with Art Blakey. On piano, we have one of the smoothest motherfuckers in jazz with Lonnie Liston Smith and his piano contribution is just beautiful on this thing. For upright bass, we have Richard Davis on the first track who has been the bassist for NUMEROUS jazz records and on the second track, we have my man Ron Carter…on the bass. For drums, we have Billy Hart on track 1 who brings the chaos and progression to new levels. With that being said, Sanders made sure he got the best musicians, but what’s the most impressive thing on the record is the fact that the composition overshadows everything. The way that this piece moves into so many emotions makes you feel like you just experienced a spiritual episode. It’s a different experience for sure.


When it comes to the instruments themself, Sanders plays it safe, but in a good way. 1969 was a pivotal year for fusion as rock started to take from jazz and vice versa. There are no electric instruments except for the occasional electric bass for the low end. Everything is acoustic, authentic, and real. The saxophones are blaring, the horns are atmospheric, the pianos are euphoric, the bass and drums are rhythmic and the woodwinds are like a glimpse of hope for the next chapter. The way that Pharoah Sanders was able to compose something like this is unreal. The drastic emotions throughout the main track are equivalent to a fucking symphony. It’s unreal man.


Let’s take a look at 1969 for jazz. Miles Davis was going into his electric phase, Zappa was transitioning the jazz, King Crimson took jazz into rock music and Tim Buckley brought jazz to folk. Pharoah Sanders easily had the purest jazz release of 1969. John Coltrane passed away 2 years prior, so Pharoah and Coltrane’s wife Alice made sure that the authenticity of jazz stayed. The production barely has any effects, reverb, or delay. What makes the music captivating in this album is the music itself, and sometimes that’s what makes the best jazz music.

The State Of Spiritual Jazz

Going back to Coltrane's passing, It was a very sad moment in jazz. In the years 1966 through 1968, jazz was moving to more accessible boundaries and it soon evolved into soul music. Rock was completely taking over the critical realm. That fad of rock n roll turned into a powerful genre and jazz took a decline in the mainstream. There were two options, You rather went into fusion, or you just go with what you enjoy. Pharoah Sanders followed his fellow saxophone players and continued to make jazz challenging. He took the directions made by John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Ornate Coleman and made an album that was more boundary-pushing and spiritual that would make Coltrane proud.


There’s nothing I can say about this album that’s negative. Pharoah Sanders defied jazz with this album. This album alone guarantees him a spot with the jazz big 4 alongside Davis, Coltrane, and Mingus. Honestly, Rest In Peace to a legend.


We lost a real one. The fact he created this album over 50 years ago, and 50 years later he plays a pivotal role in one of the best jazz albums in recent times. It shows Pharoah Sanders’ spiritual level and how it was just in front of everything. The level of intelligence brought to this album is honestly uncanny and it made the future of the jazz underground so much more challenging. With that being said, Alongside the Black Saints, Love Supremes, and Kind Of Blues, you better fucking mention Karma.



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