African Jazz All Stars
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: 28 September, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
This was the first time that veteran saxophonist Pharoah Sanders had played in London in seven years, giving the concert a palpable sense of occasion. A ferocious tenor saxophonist who came to prominence in John Coltrane’s last and most experimental group, Sanders proved himself still able, at 65, to set the pulse racing with his torrential flow of invention.
However, Sanders lurked in the shadows for much of his set, giving his faultless band the opportunity to stretch out on slow ballads and up-tempo numbers with Sanders re-emerging at climactic moments. Pianist William Henderson, a long-time Sanders collaborator, laid washes of sound, picking out details in painterly fashion. Joe Farnsworth’s drumming was detailed and uncluttered, following Henderson into double-time and back with astute ease, and Nat Reeves was a potent, earthy presence on bass.
A rendition of “My Favourite Things” was the high point, Sanders’s great, scorched tone roaring and soaring over the little tune, a voice of transcendent energy that reminded of music’s power to anchor you in the moment.
Preceding Sanders was the African Jazz All Stars, a London-based big-band, its members delivering jazz with a jubilant township flavour. Though seemingly constrained by the hour-long slot and the absence of a dance-floor, the band managed to work up a party atmosphere, due in no small part to incendiary solos by violinist Omar Puente and alto saxophonist Tony Kofi, and the infectious energy of Claude Deppa on trumpet. The powerful voice of Pinise Saul was shown off best by “The Girls”, which blended it with the brass section in the rousing chorus. Sanders’s band picked up this township feel in its encore, during which the saxophonist danced with evident enjoyment, and sang in an explosive bellow to wake the dead. A joyful noise indeed.