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Pharoah Sanders: Summun, Bukmun, Umyun

April 22, 2011

Roll: 4 – 8 – 19
Result: Summun, Bukmun, Umyun by Pharoah Sanders.

Summun, Bukmun, Umyun (Deaf, Dumb, Blind) is the answer for those who ask the question, “Can world-fusion be anything other than watered-down, artistically innocuous schmaltz suitable only for Disney movies and zoo commercials?”

Of course, this album by Pharoah Sanders is also one which is partly responsible for the Putumayos of the world. Though world music has been recorded since the days of wax cylinders, the idea of blending it with Western musical styles really took off in the late-Sixties and seventies when African American musicians began exploring their roots beyond blues and jazz. Some of the best of these early fusions came out of the free-jazz scene

The album opens with a repeated bass riff by Cecil McBee on the title track. Everyone with a free hand adds cowbell, hand drums, thumb piano, bylophone, and varied percussion to a ramshackle groove before Lonnie Liston Smith comes in on piano at the two-minute mark with a two-chord vamp reminiscent of Herbie Hancock. For the next 19 minutes Sanders (soprano sax), Gary Bartz (alto sax) and Woody Shaw (trumpet) trade riffs over the slightly discordant, untamed rhythm.

In many ways it’s one of Sander’s more accessible albums of his early free-jazz career. He keeps clear of his signature overblowing for most of the set and, at a casual listen, the band’s groove feels relatively sedate. At closer listen, the percussionists are treading a fine line between rhythm and chaos. By the ten-minute mark, the octet has progressed from a summer breeze into a firestorm. The second half of the track is dominated by African instruments (no vuvuzela, sadly) and vocalizations with Western musical ideals set aside in favour of pure expression.

The second track (side 2 of the ofiginal album), “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord” is a much more contemplative and traditionally spiritual piece. Sanders sax takes a backseat for most of the track letting McBee’s bowed bass improvisations weaving over and under Smiths uplifting chord progressions be the track’s focus. By the end the octet are twisting soaring melodies and rhythms around each other towards the light.

The album, and this track in particular, are a great place for people to start who are curious about—but afraid of—free-jazz and the more avant garde side of Sander’s time on Impulse.

(This is the last of the original Bone Rolling Review posts from the Simply Syndicated site. Brand new reviews forthwith).

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