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Into The Vinyl Vault: Vol. 6- Pharoah Sanders' Karma and A Call For Interpretation

I'll admit it, I cheated. While researching Buddy Montgomery for last week's edition I delved into Impulse! Record's back catalogue and noticed that in the late 60's/early 70's they began releasing more free-jazz. In my search I found something that I'd hoped I might find, Pharoah Sanders. Better yet, upon rummaging through the WYMS jazz archive I came across one of my favorite albums of all time: Karma. A strange and beautiful record that inspired me to jot down my own interpretation of the song, rather than run the gamut of historical facts as usual. And so in favor of democracy I challenge you this week to listen to this incredible recording and email me ( your own thoughts and interpretations. Here's mine:

Like Sanders, you must be a wonderfully warped spirit to appreciate this psychedelic relic of cosmic perfection. The A-side of the album, “The Creator Has A Master Plan” is a 32 minute long piece of kaleidoscopic jazz that flutters gayly across a technicolored forest of psilocybin tainted beauty before rapidly spiraling into the sonic equivalent of the spooling, chaotic goop that is life’s unrelenting and disorienting anxiety. Sanders plays the role of an eccentric and highly expressive conductor, with his tenor sax guiding the psyche safari with a foresight and calming wisdom that soothes and assures at the trips most terrifying moments. The laid-back playfulness of the track's opening minutes lead to Leon Thomas' divine poetry, where he assures you that it is all gonna work out in the end, despite the fact that after his magical yodeling the floor will rupture and your sanity will spill into the abyss. When the inescapable chaos appears so does the nausea and the temptation to kill yourself, but much like life the head of chaos bites it's own tranquil tail and the ride begins anew; the good times come rushing back and your lust for life is restored. The cycle repeats itself of course, with new tangents that represent the varying obstacles that life will undoubtably slip into your pocket whilst you fumble with your inhibitions. As the breaking point draws closer, like that unknown friend we call “the white light”, you can make out death, who stands, sickle in hand in a field raking the souls, looking like an ascetic farmer. But you'll realize that life is worth living and that the cycles of life are much like the cycles of the moon, sometimes it'll seemingly curve for no good reason, other times it'll appear robust, full and beautiful. No matter what life is worth experiencing, even if it's just so you can say that you did.

As insane as that all may sound, it's all in there. “The Creator Has A Master Plan” is on an entirely different plane of artistic expression; the jazz equivalent of Vivaldi's Four Seasons if I must inhabit pedantry to persuade you. What follows this 30 minute representation of life’s ebb and flows (which I should mention features Lonnie Smith Jr. on piano) is an epilogue entitled “Colors” that once again finds Sanders and Thomas (and Ron Carter on the bass) musing on the beauty of the world and lingering on the good stuff, you know, like the color green and that thing called love.



Director of Digital | Radio Milwaukee