Following on from Alice Coltrane’s Ptah El Daoud, LJC takes a second look into the murky world of unofficial bootleg vinyl, Pharoah Sander’s 1977 India Navigation title Pharoah. Sometimes you just have to go with what’s available rather than what’s collectable, not all of us have unlimited time to source an original.
Selection (long!): Harvest Time (20:28)
, . .
A. Harvest Time 20:28
B1. Love Will Find A Way 14:30
B2. Memories Of Edith Johnson 5:45
All Music says: “a sonic melange, approximating nirvana“
In 1977, after a three year recording gap ofter Impulse!, The Creator’s Masterplan opened a new chapter, courtesy of the US avant garde label India Navigation. Not quite the Pharoah of the Impulse years, but presciently, not unlike his latest Floating Points collaboration, Harvest Time sits as a fairly unique piece of work, which writers find difficult to categorise, because it is uncategorisable. The idea of “Harvest Time” draws on the natural cycle of the seasons, primitive pre-industrial rural simplicity, but it is not New Age (therapeutic calmness) or Psychedelic (acid fantasy), some musical associations pinned on it.
Sander’s wife Bedria opens up this expanse of spiritual jazz with a tremulous backcloth of harmonium, a hypnotic drone, blended with atmospherics from guitarist Tisziji Muñoz, together resembling an early synthesiser/ vocoder. The harmonium makes sound by blowing hand or foot-pumped air through reeds which are tuned to different pitches to make musical notes. The instrument had a frequent presence in Eastern spiritual music, and it’s ethereal sound sets the tone of Harvest Time.
Pharoah is less apocalyptic than on some of his earlier multi-phonic gasping-for-air cathartics, nor does he revert to the Leon Thomas yodelling and clapping-for-peace groove, but his phrasing and voicings are unmistakably Pharoah. A JazzTimes writer observed “Sanders meanders through Pharoah, sprinkling snippets of melody and soulful utterance, like lotus petals”. Not a bad description. Bass player Steve Neil is the hero of the hour, establishing bold lead-lines, temporal contrasts to Pharoah’s horn which keep the pace animated and interesting. The musical structure is asymetrical over a two chord vamp, holding your attention by not knowing what’s coming next. Harvest Time runs over twenty minutes, though the duration is barely noticeable. It is a musical work of art.
That work of art pairs well with late night listening and, with St Patrick’s Day rapidly approaching, a glass of your preferred Irish Whiskey (whiskey, not whisky, which is Scotch), but be sure to pour enough to last you the full twenty minutes. My favourite Irish tipple is Tullamore Dew, though I have just upgraded to Jameson’s Black Barrel as an experiment, and the beautifully named “Writer’s Tears”, the Van Gelder spirit in a bottle, aged and matured to perfection in flame charred bourbon barrels.
Vinyl: Alternative Fox FOX 041, stereo.
Anonymous production credits, as any bootlegger, but cheekily added below India Navigation ©1977, © Alternative Fox 2020.
I hazard a guess that the source is the 1996 legitimate India Navigation release on CD:
The Audacity histogram during ripping shows a centrally-compressed signal, missing the usual fast-moving peaks and troughs of a genuine analogue signal, compression for CD and decompression back to vinyl: basically, sausage meat. It nevertheless sounds quite passable to the ear, as you are drawn in to the music and without a comparator to raise your critical ear. The likelihood of you encountering the India Navigation vinyl original without sacrificing an arm and a leg is very low. Below, the original earlier blue cover (followed later by the same design in brown, as the bootleg)
The original vinyl sells up to a thousand £/$, the CD in hundred £/$, and an audiophile reissue is long overdue. Perhaps because Pharoah is still with us, neither he or a record company seems interested in reissuing these classic recordings. The bootlegger steps in to fill the gap left by market’s failure to match supply and demand. I see it not as a rip-off, but as a service to jazz lovers, though sacrificing the audiophile dimension. If you can afford and find an original, go for it.
Discogs identifys this as an “unofficial release”, banned from selling on Discogs, and Alternative Fox as a “bootleg” company. The record source is identified as “US”
Sticker attached to the shrink – hologram, SIAE is the Italian copyright collecting agency, DEST. VENDITA NOLEG VIETATO IMPORT FONO, which translates roughly as imported record, for – sale rental prohibited, or something to that effect. Italian-speaker’s translation welcome. The sticker is legitimate even if the record is not. (Ironic, who are “GOODFELLAS” if not classic Mafioso?)
Copies have entered the EU through Italy, paid customs duty on entry, and distributed to other countries by Amazon EU Sàrl, its Luxembourg based subsidiary.
LJC Business Briefing: Amazon EU Sàrl banks most of Amazon’s European profits. Based on a methodology set by a tax ruling, “Amazon EU Sàrl pays a tax deductible royalty to a limited liability partnership established in Luxembourg but which is not subject to corporate taxation in Luxembourg”. Me neither, but it sounds smart. It is not by accident Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the richest man on the planet (apart perhaps from Vladimir Putin, who stole Russia’s assets through fire-sale privatisation, deposited in the pockets of an off-shore network of oligarch piggy-banks.) To his credit, Bezos provided us with a service we can chose freely, or not, and he doesn’t bomb hospitals.
Circumventing the Discogs prohibition, Amazon’s European Fullfillment Centre shipped the record to Amazon (UK) , and possibly other countries, from whom I purchased it as just another piece of merchandise, buy today, delivered tomorrow.
Discogs reviewers comments:
“I just came across this at a local independent store. Never going to pay $500 for an OP even if one comes up, and I have to say I don’t care any more as this sounds great. The final notes that Pharoah plays on “Harvest Time” when the band drops out… well, the hair on the back of your neck is in for a workout.
The flip side is just OK, but I don’t think that’s particular to this release. Very weird production/engineering choices made on “Love Will Find A Way,” like miking the organ from 100 ft away, and in truth it’s not a great tune to begin with. And “Memories” is like a slab of generic 67-73 Pharoah, which is fine of course but doesn’t stand out.
No matter. Side A is one of the greatest sides in the history of 20th century music IMO. Worth the price of admission many times over.”
. . .
Another commenter: How is there no proper vinyl reissue for this masterpiece? Madness.
. . .
Another commenter: A must have. A sweet meditation improvised with the essence of jazz that’s burning every note. I’m really happy to have a near mint one. And the sound is great. This one should have been repressed a long time ago.
. . .
One more comment: Thank you Alternative Fox for doing a great run of Pharoah Sanders. “Pharoah” was hard to find for under 600 or 700$, just got mine from Amazon for under 40$ for import record. I see the same Alt Fox pressing on Ebay for over 80$ with 10 bids. Looking forward to picking some of the other albums…
The ( Alternative Fox <link) label lists over fifty bootlegged titles, almost all American jazz 60’s – 70’s, and a tell-tale Italian connection, Piero Umiliani film scores. Good taste for a Brooklyn Mafia boss (cue Nessun Dorma).
Flip side of the Pharoah album: Love Will Find A Way, Pharoah’s take on R&B – drew a hostile reception from critics at the time, dismissed by some as “like Santana”, which is a two-edged sword. Some people quite liked Santana in those days, I know I did, Oye cómo va!
Memories of Edith Johnson was considered a step backwards.
Any other takes on Harvest Time, or Alternative Fox bootlegs, welcome. If you have an Irish Whiskey recommendation, I’m all ears (mixed metaphor).