In 1978 Pharoah Sanders went into the studio with pianist, Ed Kelly, who was an important figure in the local San Francisco and Oakland jazz scene. The two of them recorded six tracks which ranged from covers of standards, through soul-jazz through to two real gems. The album was originally released as Ed Kelly and Friend due to Pharoah being contracted to Arista Records at the time. Indeed, as you can see, the cover shows Kelly playing next to Pharoah’s hat, shoes and Selmer tenor saxophone.
Rainbow Song, a Kelly composition, opens matters in a manner far removed from Pharoah’s work on his Impulse albums (although there had been a dramatic change of course when he signed with Arista and recorded). This is firmly in Grover Washington Junior territory with a liberal sprinkling of oh so tasteful strings. The Master’s sound is full and mighty as ever.
With the radio track out of the way, it is business as hoped for and Newborn is a Sanders composition that burns with intensity. The power of his solo is as good as anything he has produced and he runs over the full span of the tenor’s range and onwards into territory lesser-known or explored by 99% of sax players.
Sam Cooke’s You Send Me is treated with reverence and respect, with Pharoah delivering a sensitive and heartfelt rendition and ending with some extraordinary phonics, which we will meet again on later albums. Kelly’s accompaniment complements Sander’s playing before he receives his own space for a shimmering yet restrained solo which discloses what this non-pianist assumes to be an agile right hand.
Answer Me My Love is an early 50’s ballad with a fascinating back story. On its initial release in post-war Britain, covers of this fine melody stirred sufficient controversy for the song to be banned by the BBC. What led to it being barred from broadcast on the Light Programme and treated like Anarchy For The UK, Wet Dream and Give Ireland Back To The Irish? I can reveal that the reason for this draconian action was that the original version was entitled ‘Answer Me, My Lord’. In the olden days, it seems that a direct appeal to God was considered to be blasphemous- especially if set in a secular or selfish. Further research indicates that Nat King Cole made the most celebrated recording and that Bob Dylan used to sing it live in the 1990s, presumably during his overtly Christian phase. Anyway, it is a grand tune.
Pharoah went on to record at least three studio versions of his great anthem You’ve Got To Have Freedom but the one here is the earliest incarnation that I am aware of. It is also the most restrained treatment of the theme, although Pharoah’s solo shows his ability to play with fire and power over the entire range of the horn. There’s plenty of space for Kelly’s piano too and he provides an elegant setting for Sanders’ exploratory work.