On The Turntable: Pharoah Sanders' Izipho Zam July 21 2017
Pharoah Sanders' Izipho Zam (My Gifts) is an absolutely essential part of the free jazz canon. Out of print for far too long, we are thrilled to see it available again in a new edition on Everland Jazz.
Izipho Zam was one of several sessions that Clifford Jordan had originally produced in the late '60s for a label that never came to be, and put out in the '70s as the Dolphy Series on legendary Spiritual Jazz imprint Strata-East. It features Pharoah at the height of his powers both as a player and a bandleader, accompanied by some of the biggest names in the free and spiritual jazz underground.
"Prince of Peace," the opener, was later re-recorded for Jewels of Thought, albeit under a different title and nowhere near as raw as the version here. Chunky piano chords and tender electric guitar riffs lift Leon Thomas' ecstatic vocals to higher and higher peaks, with a cast of five drummers and percussionists teasing at the chaos to follow. "Balance" announces itself with a fanfare of rollicking horns, but quickly devolves into a storm of furious playing – Sonny Sharrock coaxes tension out of nervous guitar riffs, cut up with shards of dissonant chords and blasts of howling amplifier feedback. His playing here is nothing short of incredible. Howard Johnson's tuba playing is unbelievably thick and heavy, sounding nothing like what one expects from the instrument, freeing bass players Cecil McBee and Sirone to add their part to the hurricane swirling above. Sonny Fortune and Pharoah himself trade screaming saxophone parts in the upper register, some of them richly melodic and others gleefully atonal, as Lonnie Liston Smith frenetically hammers along on piano.
Thomas once again takes the lead for the title track of the record. Basses and horns stumble after him through joyous but disjointed choruses, interspersed with brief intermissions that allow the percussionists to find each other and temporarily take charge of the proceedings. Of course, the whole thing is blown wide open before the end, and the resulting crescendo is completely spectacular.
Even considered among other Pharoah Sanders records from the period, there's something exceptional about Izipho Zam. It's a fantastic record, one of the key highlights from the height of fire music, and it's a real treat to be able to hear it again. There really are few free jazz records that are this much fun. Don't miss out this time.