Gig preview: Pharoah Sanders at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds

Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders
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Belgrave Music Hall – the setting for Pharoah Sanders’s first ever appearance in Leeds next Thursday – is accustomed to hosting cutting edge indie rock and electronica-orientated explorations into the unknown.

This is makes it an unlikely locale for catching one of the giants of jazz in action. The 77-year old saxophonist certainly qualifies as one of the most esteemed figures of the genre, having first gained wider renown as an instrumental part of John Coltrane’s push towards the outer limits of jazz in the mid-60s, before moving on to explore – in want of a less worn-out term – a more psychedelic route in his solo work.

Should Sanders’s avant garde credentials be in doubt, playing with Coltrane – one of the, if not THE major deity in the history of jazz – was preceded by his first proper professional gig in one of Sun Ra’s outfits.

Whilst his chosen genre has risked slipping into irrelevance by becoming a dry academic pursuit or a cosy nostalgia trip, Sanders’s spiritually inclined, heady 1970’s recordings for the legendary Impulse! label, later releases for other labels and collaborations with Alice Coltrane have retained their freshness, resonating with many new listeners, rendering him a veteran artist with an appeal and recognition far beyond the niche jazz circles.

From the late, great John Martyn to current electronica-rooted, genre-blending composers such as Floating Points and James Holden and such contemporary upsetters of the traditional jazz palette as The Comet Is Coming, it’s not difficult to spot Sanders’s influence in often only very loosely connected locales on the musical map.

It’s especially hard to imagine Kamasi Washington’s beautifully expansive, soulful and richly melodic recent output without Sanders’s pioneering forays from classic jazz combo improvisations to heavily rhythmic, often seriously funky collective workouts (see Upper Egypt, Lower Egypt for proof of his music’s rich hypnotic potential).

Throughout his classic albums, more abrasive avant garde and free jazz elements are balanced out by moments of startlingly lyrical, caressing calm (such as the transcendental Astral Travelling), with displays of individual technical expertise giving way for the collective pursuit of the perfect, spiritually enlightened groove by a percussive, psychedelic big band.

But Sanders is not a musician captured entirely by his past sound: more recent years have seen him place his distinctive tenor saxophone tones in different terrains, including Moroccan music and collaborations with such distinctly non-jazz names as Jah Wobble and Bill Laswell. Sanders has a reputation as a captivating live performer, making this an all too rare opportunity to catch a genuinely legendary musician who is still at the top of his game.

Pharoah Sanders plays at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds on Thursday November 16.