It was the kind of afternoon that only comes occasionally, a warm, sunny day in Central Park, NYC that made the perfect vibe for a near perfect concert. Headliner Pharoah Sanders pulled together one of those quantum bands that you only dream of seeing, the Afro-centric saxman joined by a band that included Indian percussionist Badal Roy, drummer Adam Rudolph and Foday Musa Suso on kora. The normally serene, introspective and cosmic Sanders was in a rare mood, energetic, almost lighthearted, and he danced this band through a phenomenal set of tunes and improvisations that included long improvisations from not only African themes but also some Asian vibes. At one point they even pulled out a harmonium a la Fateh Nusrat Ali Khan (new there's a dream-team that would inspire!), layering it at first with Indian rhtyhjms, but eventually letting it expand into a full blown Afro-jazz number.
But the focal point of the show came a little earlier, when pianist Monty Alexander and Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin took the stage with Idris Muhammed and Ira Coleman in the rhythm section for a long set of jazzy, breezy reggae/ska/pop tunes that were the virtual definition of "summer day." They were cool, they were hot, and the sight of the legendary Ranglin pulling on the strings in the summer sun after so long in the shadows of his own legend was a fine thing indeed. They cruised through chestnuts like "The Theme From Exodus" (one of the tunes that highlighted Alexander's unfortunate penchant for clever, borrowed phrases) and by the time they got to the classic Ranglin tune "Surfin'" they owned the city. Both ranglin and Alexander were touring to support their new albums on the newly formed Island Jamaica Jazz label, anfd they were clearly ready to impress the crowd of old fans and new devotees with a mix of classic ska songs and some new material.
Story and photos by Cliff Furnald
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