Pharoah Sanders has long been one of the shining lights of spiritual jazz. Even during the genre’s current resurgence within contemporary jazz circles – namely evidenced through devoted Sanders disciples including Jake Long’s Maisha collective on Brownswood Recordings or the immeasurable success of Los Angeles-based saxophonist Kamasi Washington – Sanders has continued to sit as the benchmark for projects going forward. And while Pharoah Sanders is currently soaking up praise from an entirely new generation of listeners through his collaborative project, ‘Promises’, with electronic music producer Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra, Pure Pleasure choose to honour him by turning back the clock to 1981 for a vinyl reissue of a forgotten gem from the revered saxophonist’s extensive catalogue.
Pure Pleasure is a record label devoted to the reverential appreciation of the vinyl product – everything from the record itself to the album’s cover artwork and sleeve notes are all viewed by Pure Pleasure as elements to be cherished for the complete album experience. Their recent vinyl reissues have seen the label consign their affections to stunning pieces of work by Stanley Cowell, Charles Rouse and Horace Tapscott, and continuing that theme of ‘celebration’, Pure Pleasure turn their attention to ‘Rejoice’ by Pharoah Sanders.
Originally released in 1981 through Theresa Records – the California-based label that was founded in 1975 housing releases from luminaries like Nat Adderley, Idris Muhammad and George Coleman – ‘Rejoice’ lovingly strives for that notion of celebration, achieving it almost immediately with the album’s nearly thirteen-minute opening title track. The statement of intent as declared by B Kazuko Ishida’s spoken-word introduction as she invites listeners to “Walk with us, dance with us, sing with us, rejoice with us, join us in peace and love”.
While Sanders may perhaps be most well-known for his period on Impulse! Records in the 60s and 70s, seeing ‘Rejoice’ plucked from a later period and being reintroduced is particularly exciting. In large part, this is an album that embraces its 80s surrounding soundscape, particularly during the album’s early portion of highlife songs (‘Highlife’ and ‘Nigerian Juju Hilife’) and marks the first of several albums that Sanders would unveil within this decade, many of which via Theresa Records.
‘Rejoice’ is bolstered by some fantastic names as part of the line-up including drummer Billy Higgins, pianist Joe Bonner, Steve Turre and Danny Moore on trombone and trumpet respectively, and then there’s the inclusion of vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson who guests on several tracks throughout including the first of two tributes to the music of John Coltrane, ‘Moments Notice’ with vocals from George V Johnson Jr. The oft-covered ‘Central Park West’ – another Coltrane classic – is also affectionately recreated for a genuine album highlight.
As mentioned at the top of this review, while ‘Promises’ certainly gives an opportunity for listeners to embrace Pharoah Sanders within an entirely new context, if those celebrated Impulse! releases are all you’ve gravitated towards within Sanders’ past catalogue then the reissue of ‘Rejoice’ is just as much of a fantastic opportunity to explore Sanders within an alternate context as well.