Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Message From Home

Pharoah Sanders: Message From Home. Posted by Hello

It seemed fitting to ring in Black History Month with Message From Home by Pharoah Sanders. Kicking off with "Our Roots (Began in Africa)" it immediately embodies the spirit of celebrating a rich cultural heritage that I value and admire.

With an ostinato chant reminiscent of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" the voices intoning "Our Roots! Began in Africa!" are at once an infectious hook, a solemn prayer and a righteous affirmation. The band is hot and the production quality (Bill Laswell) is smooth. The end result is actually too polished at times. The rich and attractive texture of the large ensemble replete with studio effects nearly overwhelm Pharoah's excellent playing. He's had a long recording career and it's clear on this disc that he's still got immense creative chops after well over thirty years. Which is the real triumph of Message From Home. After spending several listenings mesmerized by the band and the production quality I find my ears are still drawn to the incredible and timeless quality of Pharoah's saxophone improvisations. Sanders positively soars in any context and draws from an immense well of verve and inspiration. At times I wish Laswell had given this centerpiece a little more space to breathe in the mix.

Another detail not to be overlooked are the compositions themselves. "Our Roots (Began in Africa)" casts a strong spell that nearly eclipses the pieces that follow. "Kumba," co-composed by Sanders and Foday Musa Suso, is rich with detail and great arranging featuring Suso's kora, dousongonni and vocals with Pharoah's flute and sax laid out on a lush bed of percussion. "Country Mile" closes out the disc on a note of celebration. I find the production level far too smooth on the final track (the piano is far too saturated with effects for my taste). But the sax solo work on that track is so nearly perfect I soon forget about such production qualms. Especially as it wisely closes out on a choice, unaccompanied phrase played like a gentle "amen" from the Pharoah.

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