These days, you hear a lot of talk about so-called spiritual jazz, a Sixties and Seventies subgenre that resonates strongly in the work of contemporary standouts like Kamasi Washington and Nubya Garcia. Along with John and Alice Coltrane, one of the patron saints of the unofficial movement is saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.
In 1969, Sanders released “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” a 30-minute track that summed up the spiritual-jazz aesthetic with its blend of blissed-out, meditative vamping and fiery abstraction — as well as some ecstatic yodeling from vocalist Leon Thomas. Now, a little more than 50 years after the track came out on the album Karma, Sanders has reprised it in collaboration with organist Joey DeFrancesco. “Creator” is one of a handful of tracks on keyboardist’s uplifting new album, In the Key of the Universe, that features Sanders. DeFrancesco might be better known for his work in earthier jazz styles — he also teamed up with Van Morrison for 2018’s fun, bluesy You’re Driving Me Crazy — but he sounds right at home here.
Like the original, the new “Creator” starts off with a stirring free-form intro. Sanders’ still-luminous tenor floats over DeFrancesco’s lush, churchy textures, as veteran drummer Billy Hart adds rumbling tom-toms, and percussionist Sammy Figueroa blends in shakers and chimes. Then bassist Troy Roberts comes in with the track’s signature four-note vamp, and Sanders begins a relaxed yet powerful solo.
Later, the saxophonist comes in on vocals, reprising Thomas’ memorable chant while slightly tweaking the original lyrics: “The creator has a master plan/Peace and happiness to all the land.” He never launches into a full yodel, but he does do a bit of scatting near the end.
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While the original epic contrasted its warm, melodic opening with a gritty improv blowout later on, this modest 11-minute version remains smooth and groovy pretty much all the way through. A half-century later, it still sounds like the ultimate hippie-jazz anthem — incense in musical form.