Pharoah Sanders ‘Izipho Zam (My Gifts)’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

After returning from a trip to Africa during the mid-1960s Clifford Jordan produced five albums for the Strata-East label which have since become highly collectable. One of those was Pharoah Sander’s ‘Izipho Zam’ album, recorded in 1969 but not released until 1973 by the Strata-East label because Pharoah Sanders was still under contract with the Impulse label. As well as recording some of his most well-known works for Impulse, Pharoah Sanders also featured on the more avant-garde recordings of John Coltrane’s later albums such as ‘Expression’, ‘Ascension’, ‘Om’, ‘Meditations’ and ‘Kulu se Mama’.

‘Izipho Zam’ brings together a stellar group of musicians with Pharoah Sanders joined by Sonny Fortune on the saxophone, vocalist Leon Thomas, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Billy Hart and Majeed Shabazz on drums as well as Chief Bey on African drums, bassists Cecil McBee and Sirone, Pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, Howard Johnson on tuba and percussionists Nat Bettis and Tony Wylie, who are also joined by the ensemble adding extra textures and colour with the array of percussion instruments.

This welcome reissue by Pharoah Sanders is widely known for the soulful classic ‘Prince Of Peace’, featuring the unique style of the jazz vocalist Leon Thomas. The album as a whole is a sonic exploration featuring three compositions by Pharoah Sanders spread over 50 minutes with a free-flowing avant-garde perspective. From the soulful eloquence of ‘Prince Of Peace’ to the probing expressionist soundscapes on ‘Balance’, ‘Izipho Zam’ is a tour de force of an album which epitomises the ensemble’s collective spirit and understanding for the overall message that Pharaoh Sanders was wishing to convey.

‘Izipho Zam’ begins with the classic vocal cut ‘Prince Of Peace’; the bells and percussion ushering in Lonnie Liston Smith’s soulful piano and Leon Thomas’s distinctive yodelling style sound. The song has long been an inspiration and uplifting piece of work, featuring on many compilations over the years. In 1992, Galliano covering the song on their ‘A Joyful Noise Unto The Creator’ album for Talkin’ Loud, with vocalist Valerie Etienne adding her own contemporary interpretation.

‘Balance’ opens up with a warm and inviting exchange between Howard Johnson on tuba and Pharoah Sanders saxophone before the music becomes more free and intense in waves and sheets of sound. It’s a great performance by guitarist Sonny Sharrock who contorts the sound of his guitar in immutable ways, which seems to counteract the sustained intensity of Pharoah Sander’s immense tonal weight. Layers of sound build and intensify as both musicians create a wall of sound with the ensemble adding a range of textures and rhythmic interplay that weave in and out of harmonic structures.

The 28 minute title track, ‘Izipho Zam’, builds slowly but surely with the soulful idiosyncratic yearnings of supreme vocalist Leon Thomas creating more colourful wordless sounds amid a flurry of percussive effects. After a lengthy intro build up, the unmistakeable lyrical phrasing from Pharoah Sanders cast the composition, dipping in and out throughout the track; it’s an adventurous piece, open and free of constraints, emanating a rich cultural history through the decoration of silence.

A welcome reissue from the seminal Strata-East label that Charles Tolliver and Stanley Cowell started in New York, early 1970s. It was the only album he recorded for the label and I suspect that is mainly because of his long-standing relationship with Bob Thiele at Impulse Records.

Mark Jones