To celebrate the birthday of jazz icon Pharoah Sanders, the Harvest Time Project came to Williamsburg's National Sawdust to pay tribute to his classic album Pharoah in the artist's former neighborhood.
The Harvest Time Project is a rotating group of musicians who come together to reinterpret the works of Pharoah Sanders made most famous by his album Pharoah which is also colloquially known as Harvest Time. On Saturday, the line-up consisted of Jeff Parker, Chad Taylor, James Brandon Lewis, and special guest (and original Pharoah guitarist) Tisziji Muñoz, under the musical direction of Joshua Abrams (Natural Information Society, original member of The Roots, etc.), and the group played new renditions of classic tracks from the album that was recently reissued by Luaka Bop. "This group has never played together before" said the co-founder of Luaka Bop as he introduced the mighty quintet and told some quick stories about his decade-long friendship with Pharoah Sanders. On stage, the ensemble was loose and free, feeling the expressive tones and spiritual presence of Pharoah's music and grooving along with their immense talents to help bring these new interpretations to life with extreme satisfaction. On saxophone, James Brandon Lewis took center stage, replicating the iconic riffs and solos from Sanders' all while giving new flavors and textures to match the other musicians on stage and while there were so many shining moments across the night, it was hard to ever fully take your eyes of Lewis as he carried the torch and brought out some truly memorable moments that would have the crowd levitating in delight. Of course another highlight was Tisziji Muñoz who invigorated the crowd by inviting them to cheer and vocalize along with him during moments of the night, creating a wonderful sense of unity and collective expressionism that bound the night together. Watching the talent bounce between the members of the group was a thing of wonder, Joshua Abrams playing the upright bass with power and dexterity, his nimbleness grounding the work and also pushing it forward with his illustrious grooves. Jeff Parker brought his shimmering walls of electric guitar to the room and comfortably washed over the tracks with his thick melodies and vibrant notes that added subtle pleasure to each number. The gifts of Pharoah Sanders were aplenty at the end of the '60s and into the '70s and his work with Alice Coltrane helped push the boundaries of spiritual and free jazz with brash, overblown saxophone that moved with melody and tranquil grooves, harnessing a bit of the chaos that usually is associated with the genre for moments of clarity and peace. Perhaps this was best captured on Pharoah's track "Love Will Find a Way" and when the group played the number, you could feel the harmony throughout the room as people danced and sang along to the refrain, channeling the inner-peace many had been seeking and finding the freedom in the expression that the song allows. It was an immense release of joy that only music can provide and in the moment, it felt expansive beyond compare and one that I wish I could've lived in forever.