Sep 6 2014
Jazzman Records just released the fifth volume in their Spiritual Jazz series, this one entitled Spiritual Jazz 5: The World. I’ve mentioned this series previously, both on this site and Wondering Sound, but for my new readers, the deal with it is this: Jazzman Records digs through the old crates of vinyl looking for the under-the-radar and forgotten gems of music… pretty similar to what I do with new jazz releases (though Jazzman doesn’t limit their searches to just Jazz). They dig those sonic gems up, they get them legally licensed, tracking down the artists and copyright holders, and they reissue the music under their own label, either as an album or, as in the case of their Spiritual Jazz series, in the form of compilations.
John Coltrane is the immediate reference for spiritual jazz, and his brilliant 1965 recording A Love Supreme. This particular jazz subset had qualities of spiritual philosophy, of African music approaches and instrumentation, and an inclination toward freer expressions and avant-garde idealism. Over the years, others have expressed their own forms of spiritual jazz through their own specific religion and ethnicity’s folk musics and instruments. The first four volumes of the Jazzman Records Spiritual Jazz series focused on music that sourced from Africa, the United States and Europe. Volume number five has them expanding their reach to everywhere else. One particular album track is from the Chilean quintet Aquila, performing the Pharoah Sanders composition “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah.”
Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders was one of my early favorites when I first started making Jazz a full-time preoccupation. Due to his close association with John Coltrane and the heavily avant-garde label Impulse Records, it was easy to happen upon Sanders’ music. I liked how his music was free and untamed yet possessed an unmistakable lyricism. I liked how he shifted from passages of wild ferocity to those of melodic introspection and then back again. It appealed to me much in the same way as the music of Sonic Youth… that washing machine hypnotism of chaos-peace-chaos-peace. I liked his use of African instruments and how the folk music of Africa blended with a post-hard bop sound. And I really liked how his furious music seemed focused on a message of peace and openness.
His 1969 release Karma was my first Sanders recording, and it represents all those qualities I mention just above. Not long after, I picked up his 1969 recording Jewels of Thought. Comprised of two long tracks, the opening notes of track one, “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” grabbed me right away, and now, twenty years after I first heard those opening notes, the song still sends chills up my spine and joy bursting from my heart. So many things I love about this song:
- The opening with the gentle crash of shakers and percussion, and Lonnie Liston Smith adding a dovish intro on piano for Sanders to join on tenor sax with his typical mix of lyricism and hint of fire… a delicate presence that intimates an inherent combustibility.
- The voice of Leon Thomas a thing of resonance, his beautiful message of peace commingling with cries of saxophone… a powerful sense of honesty in everything being communicated in words and notes.
- The way mbira pokes its head up every now and then, adding more rhythmic texture to an album swimming in it.
- The way in which Sanders builds up the intensity yet maintains a delicate touch, and how he steps aside for Smith’s piano solo.
- That amazing Smith piano solo and how it goes from a contemplative intensity to a harmonic glittering sea of diamonds and then into a catchy little groove, and all the while the drums and percussion of Roy Haynes and Idris Muhammad explode like fireworks in the background.
- And that is a powerful element on this recording. Haynes, Muhammad and bassist Cecil McBee surge up like waves, never subsuming the song but evincing a raw power that is awesome to hear in the context of solos and melody. The way in which their seemingly unrelated rhythms suddenly come together with a formidable unity.
- The crash of cymbals and then Sanders stepping up for a ferocious solo that seems like it’s never going to end, sounding like an honest cry for peace. And then the way it suddenly drops back off to a return to that peaceful swaying motion, and how it trails off plaintively with a lovely curl of melody.
- The way Sanders ends his solo by handing off the baton to Thomas, but for a time running side by side, sax and voice, and how that winds down to a peaceful conclusion.
- And all the other stuff I didn’t mention.
Here’s what I’m talking about…
Your song personnel: Pharoah Sanders (tenor sax, reeds, kalimba, percussion), Cecil McBee (bass, percussion), Roy Haynes (drums), Idris Muhammad (drums, percussion), Leon Thomas (vocals, percussion), Lonnie Liston Smith (piano, kalimba, percussion),
(Jewels of Thought released on Impulse Records, 1969)
So, I was pretty thrilled when I discovered that there was a rendition of this song on the new Spiritual Jazz compilation.
As far as I can tell, as an ensemble, Aquila only recorded this one album, self-titled on Alba Records. They use the title “Um Allah” on the track listing, which may either be a typo or perhaps the band recognizing the source material while respecting their own take on it. I think it’s pretty damn cool. They get a nice little groove going and then let the enthusiasm spring up from it.
There’s not much else out there in the way of other renditions of the song. There was the Toni Esposito fusion-y version (a little bit Latin, a little bit Afrobeat) from the 1978 release La Banda Del Sole (Phillips Records), but other than that, nobody else seems to have covered it. Well, two exceptions: a band called Emanative seems to have an unreleased version floating around out there, but after several failed attempts to find it on-line to give it a listen, I stopped wasting my time, and, also, there’s the pop music version by Eugene Chadbourne & Camper van Beethoven, which is so exceedingly bad that it’s insulting (real gutsy move not even using the word “Allah” in the song, assholes).
But none of that really matters, because we still have the Pharoah Sanders original and now we also have this enjoyable rendition by Aquila…
Your song personnel: Guillermo Rifo (vibes), William Miño (electric bass), Sergio Meli (drums), Sandro Salvati (alto sax), and Guillermo Olivares (keyboards).
There’s more information on Aquila on the Listen Recovery Crew site.
Spiritual Jazz 5: The World:
Pharoah Sanders Jewels of Thought: