Saxman Pharoah Sanders and his quartet opened the Santa Fe edition of the Third annual New Mexico Jazz Festival Friday night in grand style. Blowing, shouting, even singing, Pharoah channeled John Coltrane while showing his own strong playing style and strengths. Playing tunes like Ole, My Favorite Things and the lovely Namia -all on tenor– Pharoah covered a wide range of material and allowed his stellar band extensive solos. The night started with a 10 minute vamp with just the basic chords and improv on what was to become “My Favorite Things” — in fact, Pharoah didn’t even state the theme until the end of his first solo. Prety cool. Then the pattern emerged where Pharoah would leave to stage to the band members who would solo in turn– first longtime associate William Henderson on piano, Nat Reed on bass, and then the amazing Joe Farnsworth on drums. His solo with brushes reminded me of a great chef in the kitchen, furiously stirring up a great sauce or roux. Later in the evening, the band slowed down to play Coltrane’s “Namia”, and let everyone breathe in Pharoah’s warm tenor sound on Tranes beautiful composition. As usual, the Lensic theater’s sound system filled the hall wonderfully, but it wasn’t until Pharoah’s famous tenor screams from his horn that got everyone’s attention. Man, that cat can wail, even at Santa Fe’s vaulted elevation. With shades of the two Sonnys – that being Stitt and Rollins — Pharoah seems to give musial credit to these and other masters of the tradition, while creating a unique space his fans have come to love. One audience member even shouted out a request –”The Creator has a Master Plan”, which Pharoah must have had in mind all along for the outro, prior to the short encore. And since Leon Thomas was not in evidence, Pharoah actually sang the tune before introducing the band…a real treat. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to see Pharoah Sanders since the early 1980′s, and even worked with him a bit while he was recording for Berkeley’s Theresa Records, and back then the man was shy and did not easily come to the microphone — to speak. So he’d shout his introduction…”And on piano, THE GREAT WILLIAM HENDERSON…. THE GREAT WILLIAM HENDERSON…ON PI-ANO!” He’s still doing that, but also singing, dancing a bit, and clearly having fun with it all, and delighting the audience in the process. So, this was a perfect way to open this Multi faceted, bi-city Jazz Festival that continues for another week in various venues in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. There will be another post from time to time as we slog on with the likes of Kenny Garrett, Cassandra Wilson, and Paquito D’Rivera. And you didn’t think there was jazz in New Mexico?? Well, think again….! Visit www.newmexicojazzfestival.org for more information.
–Harmonica Mike Handler for Event City