Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12: Pharoah Sanders, "The Creator Has A Master Plan"

Artist: Pharoah Sanders
Song: "The Creator Has A Master Plan"
Album: Karma
Year: 1969

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Certain musicians cannot be copied.  Due to their extraordinary talents or musical vision, they are far too beyond their peers in so many ways, that such an idea is impossible.  In these cases where a "direct copy" is not possible, aside from making it known from whence an influence came, there are few ways to properly "thank" these amazing performers.  Perhaps the only "proper" way to do so is though a song dedicated to that artist, and such songs are best when done by those who knew the initial artist closely.  In July of 1967, the world of jazz was shaken to its core with the passing of John Coltrane.  Unquestionably the most important saxophone player in music history, at only forty years old, and clearly still at the apex of his talents, many could not find the proper words to convey their frustration at this loss.  Having performed on some of Coltrane's finest work, as well as studying his style and blending in his own approach, one can make the case that few felt the pain of the loss of Coltrane more than fellow saxophone master, Pharoah Sanders.  Bringing his own unique style of playing, there are few musicians of any era that have shown as much raw emotion as one finds within the recordings of Sanders.  It is this combination of sadness and understanding of Coltrane's style that led to the recording of one of the truly epic compositions in music history, as there is quite literally nothing that can compare to Pharoah Sanders' 1969 recording, "The Creator Has A Master Plan."

Within the first few minutes of the thirty-minute-plus musical journey that is "The Creator Has A Master Plan," Sanders shows his own style in all its glory, as well as gives a clear nod to his teacher, Coltrane.  The opening moments are unlike any other jazz recording in history, filled with an all-out sonic assault with everything from the over-blown saxophone of Sanders to a wild flue progression, hand bells, and a wide array of other sounds.  From the first note, "The Creator Has A Master Plan" is almost overwhelming, as there is so much going on musically, that it often takes multiple listenings to fully appreciate every aspect of the composition.  After about two minutes of what can almost be seen as a "musical catharsis," the entire band refocuses and shifts into a far more "normal" jazz progression.  However, it is also at this moment that Pharoah Sanders makes his love for Coltrane completely clear, as the main musical theme presented cannot be mistaken for a nod to the classic Coltrane song, "A Love Supreme."  It is the way in which Sanders and his band take this well-known theme and spin it into something all their own that proves their greatness, and it also serves as an ideal tribute to show all that Sanders learned from Coltrane.  Yet this is where any comparison to Coltrane ends, as the final half-hour of "The Creator Has A Master Plan" as a mind-blowing musical experience that is unlike anything else in history.

While the entire band behind him plays brilliantly, the focus rarely shifts from the saxophone and arrangement skills of Pharoah Sanders.  Remaining today one of the most distinctive players in history, it is his raw, over-blown sound that makes him so easy to identify, and this aspect of his playing is on full display throughout "The Creator Has A Master Plan."  The way in which he plays gives the song a sultry, almost Middle-Eastern tone, and the addition of the bells over this reinforces this mood.  Furthermore, the way in which the saxophone of Sanders wraps through and around the flute playing of James Spaulding stands today as one of the most stunning musical duos ever recorded.  Mixing together brilliant modal progressions with true "free form" exploration, as well as lyrics in both the instrumental and spoken style, "The Creator Has A Master Plan" is quite literally the "complete package" when it come to jazz music.  The lyrics, written by Sanders and Leon Thomas are only heard in part on Karma, yet there are other recordings of "The Creator Has A Master Plan" available that present the entire lyric which can be found in the gate-fold of the original vinyl release.  Regardless, Sanders explores every inch of the theme that the band works from, and eventually lends a smooth progression into the next stage of the song.  It is in these shifts, that flow perfectly, yet are musically jarring, where one can see the true genius of Sanders, as he is able to perfectly bridge sounds and arrangements that seem to have nothing in common.  Combining this idea with his extraordinary performance, it is "The Creator Has A Master Plan" that solidifies Pharoah Sanders' place as one of the finest jazz players in history.

However, if one fully considers the sound and mood found on "The Creator Has A Master Plan," there is another theory which cannot be denied.  In every aspect of the song, one can clearly imply that while the song is a tribute, it is also serving as a release of grief which Sanders feels due to the loss of his mentor.  One can even see the title of the song as a sort of self-assurance that there was a reason Coltrane was taken at such a young age.  As one gets deeper and deeper into the song, there are a number of interludes that feature wild, abrasive playing from Sanders, and one can interpret these moments as his musical expression of frustration, and in many ways, this is the true power that can be found in music as both a performer, as well as for the listener.  Taking this into account, one can then look at the massive wall of sound that flows throughout the song as a "choir," backing the eulogy played by Sanders, and completing the overall idea that "The Creator Has A Master Plan" is his final tribute to his mentor and friend.  Whether it is the deep bassline, the ever-present bells, the wide-array of string and percussion, or the phenomenal performance of Sanders himself, there is simply no way to accurately capture the pure musical majesty that occurs throughout the half-hour of this song, and in terms of both length, as well as the unwavering level of emotion, there is simply nothing else in music history that even remotely measures up to the standard set by Pharoah Sanders on his monumental 1969 recording, "The Creator Has A Master Plan."

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