Pharoah Sanders – Journey To The One (1980)

Share this:

By S. Victor Aaron

When Nick’s article on that badass Idris Muhammed started name-checking all the jazz heavyweights that this great dummer had been associated with, I then realized how many records with his imprint that are among some of my all time favorites. It would easy to launch into a gush-fest over John Scofield’s Groove Elation, but Sco’ has been covered here a lot already (and will likely be touched on again if I can help it).

Tell you what, let’s talk about Pharoah Sanders for now.

My first exposure to Sanders was from John Coltrane’s final period. It was not a very good first impression. Trane had brought in Sanders as a second saxophone in 1965, a few months after recording A Love Supreme and it’s not a stretch to imagine that Sanders fit JC’s vision for a more abstract form of jazz: unattached from timekeeping and song structures and at times more violent. But Sanders’ job mostly seemed to be to sound as screeching and abrasive as possible; I was ready to grab a 12 gauge shotgun after hearing all those duck calls. McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones seemed to agree, as they both left the band by the end of the year.

But Pharoah’s own early post-Coltrane solo work showed much more depth and purpose in his playing, and while his side-long compositions were firmly in the avant garde camp, they were also very spiritual and melodic…harma-lodic, actually, and he found the right spots to alternate between turbulent and serene. Albums like Karma, Black Unity are all worth acquiring and along with the albums of that period by Coltrane’s widow Alice, these recordings represent the best extension of the later period Coltrane legacy.

As the seventies wound down Sanders had become something of an icon himself, even if it was only with the greatly diminished number of fans of the more challenging forms of jazz. After a turn toward the mainstream with Love Will Find A Way, Pharoah returned to all of his strengths for 1980’s Journey To The One.

Featuring our drumming champ Idris Muhammed behind the kit, Pharoah also enlisted other top tier performers for these sessions, including pianist John Hicks (who sadly passed away this past May), Flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson and bassist Ray Drummond.

Some highlights include:
“Greetings To Idris,” a theme is repeated over and over; lesser soloists would run out of ideas early, but keeping long solos compelling is one of Pharoah’s strong suits. Then the late John Hicks contributes a beautiful solo himself.

“Doktor Pitt” is a superb hard bop workout with Sanders sounding like Rollins before he notches up the intensity a bit and sounds very much like himself. Idris shines on the song’s last minute.

“Soledad” harkens back to those early solo records that were heavy on eastern influences; Pharoah plays serenely over tabla, sitar and Indian percussion.

“You Got To Have Freedom” is also vintage Pharoah in that it includes a vocal chorus chanting the song’s title and PS puts his trademark tenor rasp on fine display.

“Think About The One” is the low point of the album, a forgettable r&b crossover tune featuring some pretty irritating female lead vocals, but Sanders rights himself for the free flowing spiritual mood of the closing “Bedria”.

In all, this is a pretty accessible collection of tunes despite its inclusion in the Whack Jazz series; Pharaoh belongs here more on his reputation than the actual album being discussed. But it makes a neat entry point into the music of a living legend. From here, you can work backwards to those Impulse! classics of the late 60’s/early 70’s or ahead to his generally solid later releases. A much better introduction than the one I had.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron

Latest posts by S. Victor Aaron (see all)

Share this: