Lavish reissues of a single album usually signify the record’s general sense of importance: We need to gather all that’s known about this work, they suggest, every note and outtake, in order to more completely understand its historical moment. The new edition of Pharoah Sanders’ 1977 album Pharoah, which comes in a beautiful box with an expansive booklet filled with essays and interviews, a companion live disc, sheet music, photographs, and more, is trying to correct the record rather than expand upon it.

In the grand scheme of jazz history, Pharoah is merely one LP among the dozens the saxophonist issued between the blistering far-out free jazz of his 1965 debut and Promises, the album he made with Floating Points that was issued in 2021, about 18 months before his death. Pharoah was cut for India Navigation, a small imprint that specialized in the jazz avant-garde, and it sold poorly and was not regarded highly by its maker. Though it made little impact at the time, Pharoah spawned a fervent cult among spiritual-jazz fans, particularly those who enjoy the chase for rare LPs. This reissue, while not cheap, is a bargain compared to the hundreds of dollars one might spend for a beat-up original. And the music itself, which is identifiably the work of its creator but has a highly unusual atmosphere all its own, easily justifies the effort and care that went into the set.

The secret appeal of Pharoah is the quality that ultimately gave Sanders pause when the album was first coming together: As a recording, it sounds crude and homemade, which it was. It was cut in a former factory in upstate New York where India Navigation founder Bob Cummins, an attorney and jazz obsessive, lived with his family. Cummins would put out records by important jazz figures, including saxophonist David Murray and bassist Cecil McBee. But he typically issued live albums and was not an engineer by trade. He and Sanders had trouble agreeing on the details of this project, and in the end, neither man was happy with how it turned out. But the modest recording is perfect for the music, framing a peculiar mood and atmosphere that’s lusty and joyous one moment and haunting and meditative the next.

The side-long “Harvest Time” opens the record with guitarist Tisziji Muñoz and bassist Steve Neil sketching out a two-chord vamp. When Sanders enters, his tone is smoky and relaxed, perfect for a late-night seance. He darts across the melody and fixates on his lower range, where the resonance of his instrument’s reed makes you think of a rumbly congested breath more than a melodic voice. Sanders jumps an octave for some trills and Muñoz joins him, breaking out of his two-chord reverie, and then percussion enters—bowls, bells; you can smell the burning sandalwood—followed by droning harmonium from Sanders’ then-wife Bedria. After 20 minutes that seem to race by, the piece drifts away, as if dispersed by the wind.

“Harvest Time” is so powerful because it contains at least a half-dozen distinct and possibly contradictory feelings at the same time. It’s peaceful but with an undercurrent of unease; it’s warm and welcoming, yet it makes most sense in darkness; it sounds folky and ancient, yet could only be fully rendered following the structural earthquakes of modernism; it comes across as simple and approachable while it’s overlaid with a blurring film of strangeness. The bonus disc that comes with this set contains two live versions of “Harvest Time” recorded when Sanders toured Europe shortly after the record’s release. In some respects, the existence of these live versions, both of which are great, reinforces just how special the initial recordings are. The live takes are much “better” recordings—clearer, less muffled, with a more distinct balance of instruments—and they are well worth hearing. But in emotional terms, they can’t come close to the unrepeatable moments that Cummins captured in the studio.

The second track on the album proper, “Love Will Find a Way,” is another example of the original sessions’ unearthly magic. It would have a long life outside of this recording, even if it never again sounded quite like it does here. At least since his collaborations with singer Leon Thomas starting at the end of the ’60s, Sanders had indulged his love of gospel and R&B, sometimes, as he does here, taking to the microphone himself. His singing voice is untrained and sounds as if he delivered this song off the cuff, but his enthusiasm is infectious, and his voice fits the album’s casual emotions-first mission.

Drums appear for the first time on the record on “Love Will Find a Way,” and the mix is wild and disorienting, with percussion clattering away in the background while Sanders’ singing is way out front. He rips an intense tenor solo over the two-chord vamp, slipping into the reed-splitting overblowing that marked his earlier work. And then, a little over six minutes in, comes the only notable non-Sanders solo on the record, a corker by Muñoz that recalls the color-saturated fractal patterns of an early Santana lead.

“Love Will Find a Way” is 14 minutes of pure jubilation, the sound of a band riffing on a feeling rather than chord changes. The song would reappear as the instrumental title track on Sanders’ next album, a lush excursion into quiet-storm territory featuring vocalist Phyllis Hyman, and Philip Bailey would make it the title track for his 2019 solo album. These later versions confirm that its structure and melody invite a feeling of elegance and smoldering beauty, which makes the festive chaos of the original even more striking.

The final track on Pharoah is the gospel slow-burner “Memories of Edith Johnson,” which features a thick organ, crashing drums, and distant bells and chimes. Slowly unfolding like a time-lapse film of an opening flower, its form reminds me a bit of John Coltrane’s “Welcome,” channeling a related sense of serenity. Sanders wrote the piece thinking of his aunt, whose name is in the title. In an interview included in this set’s book, he talks about the awesome power of her singing, which he heard in church while growing up in Arkansas, comparing her voice to that of Patti LaBelle. Sanders’ own wordless vocalizations on the song, a series of spectral oohs and aahs that convey both innocence and ecstasy, evoke the process of memory itself, how the mind gathers fragments of an event which it then assembles into a coherent whole.

Sanders was very near the end of his life when he sat for the interview where he mentions Edith Johnson, and he lingers on his description of his aunt while his other recollections about the music and recording sessions are relatively brief. His general point is that for certain people and certain cultures—the Black church community he grew up with being a prominent example—music is an integral part of everyday life, something you experience in the moment without necessarily analyzing it after the fact. The homespun Pharoah reflects such a practice. After these sessions finished, he was onto the next gig and back in another studio. To him, this was not a date of particular note. The saxophonist had by this time enjoyed a long life as a performer and bandleader, playing with some of the most important figures in the history of jazz. But gathering people in a room to make raucous and sublime music was his ultimate mission. Few heard Pharoah then and we are very lucky to hear it now, in all its glorious imperfection.

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Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah