Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Pharoah Sanders - Summun Bukmun Umyun

Pharoah Sanders
Summun Bukmun Umyun

Released 1970 on Impulse
Reviewed by Lugia, 07/01/2004ce

Pharoah Sanders: "Summun, Bukmun, Umyun"
Impulse AS-9199, recorded/released 1970.

1) Summun, Bukmun, Umyun (Deaf, Dumb, Blind) (21:17)
2) Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord (18:25)

Pharoah Sanders: soprano sax, cow horn, bells, whistle, wood flute, kalimba, percussion.
Woody Shaw: trumpet, maracas, vocal, percussion
Gary Bartz: alto sax, bells, shakers, percussion
Lonnie Liston Smith: piano, cowbell, kalimba, percussion
Cecil McBee: bass
Clifford Jarvis: drums
Nathaniel Bettis: balafon, vocal, African percussion
Anthony Wiles: conga, African percussion

Sanders is considered by many to be the heir apparent to the great John Coltrane. On some of Coltrane's late recordings with his second quartet, Sanders was there alongside, wailing it high and strong in that loose, New Thing style.

This set of two side-long workouts dates from a few years later, teaming Sanders with an expanded group with lots of extra percussion, plus the usual accoutrements one was used to from the 'Trane quartet of piano/bass/drums. It's fine, fine stuff...not rock, but still, it's high up in the energy spectrum. And who said you should listen to only ONE thing all the time anyway?

The title track opens things up. Starting from an Olatunji-like groove of only percussion, Cecil McBee's bass jumps in with a looping line, and we're off. The build is nice, like a takeoff in good weather, and soon enough there's your pilot, Capt. Pharoah, wailing his soprano in a wicked, wicked wail that hangs in the air somewhere between the Village Vanguard and Marrakech. The soprano sax has sometimes been compared to the Indian shenai or other Arabic/Levantine reeds, and here Sanders is taking that comparison to its logical conclusion. Lonnie Liston Smith's back and forth chordal comping immediately recalls the trance-style of the old Coltrane quartet's, but the drive and energy of the proceedings is fevered...heady...one part wild New Thing jamming, and one part Gnawa backbeat. Everyone gets to jump in, especially the percussion who get a hefty workout around the midpoint, flailing and banging and whistling like something off a Dakar streetcorner as translated back to jet age America. Toward the end, EVERYONE is just wailing, blowing, banging it in an orgasm of jazzy sonics..and then it all tails back, back to the piano and bass and drums as Pharoah steps in again to wail you on back home. But you're not sure where that is now...was it where you started, or was it somewhere in Morocco? GOOD energies here, positive flowing grooves and jams are the order of side one, to be sure. And in one final bit of wow, Prof. Smith starts _strumming_ the piano, sweeping chorded strings, autoharp-style, before the bells and juju balafons sweep us on away, away...

"Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord" is an energy piece, too...but here, the energy that was so propulsive on the other side is turned inward, into this beautiful sustaining glow, like sunlight on a warm day. This is much harder to describe...it's a sustain of sound, with bells and jingles and rattles like some sort of shamanic backdrop for the proceedings. Smith's adaptation of this traditional gospel song is stretched out over time, expanded, made to flow all over like it was some extended time-warp. And it's one you just don't want out of, it's so beautiful. If you can listen to the first part, as everything ebbs and flows like sea-tides of sound and not feel something truly spiritual coming over you, you're dead from the neck up, bub. Mid-point has McBee doing this loose and loopy workout on the theme on arco bass as Smith's piano gently underpins it, like a breeze...and then everyone washes in again, blowing, ringing, jingling...like huge puffy cumulus clouds of sound drifting in a beautiful sky, so slow, Jarvis's drumming just rolling beneath like a light zephyr. This is gospel music, to be sure...but not any gospel of any one god or whatever. Just some musical good news telling you, hey, everything's so cool, and you're OK, and letting you know that it's good to be alive so you can hear a tune like this. Super, super, SUPER positive vibe, not one you could ever manufacture no matter how hard anyone in the Entertainment Industry would like to think they can. This...is real. And it will touch you.

From the liner notes, Sanders's intent for this music to be a spiritual message is clear. It's intended to reach out and bring an experience of enlightenment as Sanders viewed it...coming down a channel from Africa, from Allah the Beneficient and Merciful. For as much in recent times as people have become acclimatized to Islam as a religion of conflict, this album shows that in pure and mindful hands, it...like any other form of inner awakening...should truly be a faith of peace and love. And even if you're not down with Sanders's brand of religion, you cannot help but feel a connection with something higher while this music is playing. It's truly a giving, healing jazz sound, and those who value moments of beauty and bliss really should check this one out.

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