Karma (album)

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Studio album by Pharoah Sanders


May 1969

Label (s) Impulses! Records

Format (s)


Genre (s)

Free jazz

Title (number)


running time




Bob Thiele

Studio (s)

RCA Studios New York City

Izipho Zam
karma Jewels of Thought

Karma is a 1969 jazz album by the American saxophonist Pharoah Sanders on the Impulse label ! Records . It contains the first half-hour version of his most famous composition The Creator Has a Master Plan , written with singer Leon Thomas. It is considered both the "late hymn of the New Thing in Jazz " and the evocation of "Peace and Happiness" in the hippie style .

History of origin

Karma is the third album by Sanders under his own name. Since the death of John Coltrane in 1967, he has appeared primarily with Alice Coltrane and the Jazz Composer's Orchestra . At the beginning of 1969 he had been offered to have his album Tauhid (1966) followed by another album on the Impulse! Label. After he had recorded the album Izipho Zam in a large format for the small label Strata-East a month before , he recorded the album Karma with a nonet or septet in two recording sessions on February 14 and 19, 1969. In addition to the two published pieces, a third composition, Light of Love , was recorded, but it was not published on the album.

The titles

  1. The Creator Has a Master Plan (Sanders, Thomas) (32:45)
  2. Colors (Sanders, Thomas) (5:37)

In the cover photo taken by Charles Stewart, Pharoah Sanders is shown in a yoga pose ; Another photo with Sanders in the lotus position is enclosed. Although the album documents the lyrics of the two pieces, it does not contain any liner notes .


The music on the album is "partly tonal , partly modal ", in places it merges into the tonal language of free jazz and at the same time has "peculiarities of other musical cultures": In the contemporary reviews, particular reference is made to " incantations inspired by oriental music ", but especially on Africanisms - the "African-colored percussive accentuation", which was still unusual at the time, and Thomas' African-influenced singing. Passionate outbursts from conventional musical structures and a "surprisingly peaceful, spiritual and friendly game" alternate.

The album moves between the two poles of the jazz productions of the time: On the one hand, it was based on the spontaneous jam session- like recordings that were typical for albums such as Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation or Ascension and that were only rarely reworked in the studio; on the other hand, Sanders pre-structured the structure of the piece and very consciously calculated the processing techniques that characterize albums like The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or Bitches Brew . According to Trevor MacLaren, The Creator Has a Master Plan is “one of the finest and best executed and post-processed jams that have ever been recorded on record,” even if Sanders later criticized the track allocation of the recording: saxophone and bass lay on top of each other are therefore difficult to perceive separately. Therefore, at that time it was hardly possible to emphasize the saxophone more clearly during post-production.

Leon Thomas pointed out that this album brought a new quality to free jazz: "Until then, it was the wind instruments that explored new dimensions in sound and expression." Here, however, a singing voice would be on a par with the saxophone. The critic Gudrun Endress pointed out very early on that the richness of the human voice was presented for the first time in the new jazz: "The record Karma shows this very clearly in the interaction and opposition of instrument and voice."

The Creator Has a Master Plan

Pharoah Sanders (2006)

At the center of Karma is the half-hour The Creator Has a Master Plan, recorded on February 14, 1969 . Sanders wrote the extended piece in 1968 together with singer Leon Thomas , who wrote the text. The theme of the composition was first played by Sanders in 1968 during his own appearances in New York as a signature tune and was called Pisces Moon . In part, the composition can be understood as a variant of John Coltrane's album A Love Supreme , especially since its opening motif is quoted in the piece, which is based on the same harmonies. When Sanders met Leon Thomas in Brooklyn in 1968 , who was then working with Randy Weston , he asked him to write a text for the play. However, Sanders did not approve of the original draft and asked Thomas to write “something more spiritual”. Allegedly, there was also "quarrel and rift" with regard to authorship. According to Christian Broecking, “Pharoah Sanders reacts sensitively to the question of which of the two was the actual creator of the master plan .”

Unlike many later versions of the piece, only the refrain of the text is used on Karma :

The creator has a master plan
peace and happiness for every man.
The creator has a working plan / peace and happiness for every man.
The creator makes but one demand
happiness through all the land.

The Creator has a master plan:
peace and happiness for everyone.
The Creator has a work plan:
Peace and happiness for everyone.
The Creator makes only one requirement:
happiness should be in the whole land.
    (Own translation)

The piece was recorded for Karma for the first time (on February 14, 1969). It starts right away with a hymn-like mood and intense saxophone outbursts that are reminiscent of Coltrane. Then the bass kicks in and plays a riff taken from the first part of A Love Supreme . The flute introduces the theme of The Creator , based on two chords , over which the saxophone, carried by the other instrumentalists, improvises. Only after almost eight minutes does the voice of Leon Thomas set in, who recites individual lines of the lyrics like a mantra and then sings scat in yodelling technique , before Sanders creates an anthemic atmosphere again . Then a second pass through the piece begins with some outbreaks from Sanders. From the middle of the piece on, a free and very intense improvisation develops, in which continuous harmonies are dispensed with. Leon Thomas' yodelscat evolves into impressive "wild fluctuations of crackling noises and flowing words". After 19 minutes (before the digital release, the second side of the LP), a typical free jazz climax develops, from which Sanders "with an almost dreamlike security for musical transitions ”leads back“ into the area of ​​calm and equilibrium ”when the topic reappears about four minutes before the end, like a recapitulation:“ A storm slowly ebbs away and backwards people remain in a changed world. It is the will of the Creator that everyone lives in happiness and peace. "

Despite the nonet line-up and Leon Thomas' warm vocals, Sanders is the actual soloist, who bears almost the entire length of the piece over the main burden of melody, structure and improvisation. With his ensemble he creates a broad spectrum of moods, which is very lyrical over long distances and contains many echoes of Coltrane's spiritual phase. Sanders seems to be the "secretary of the spirits", the "humble converter of their energies"


The second piece, Colors , for which Sanders and Thomas also draw as authors, was recorded on February 19, 1969; the ensemble is smaller because the timbres of the flute and additional percussion were dispensed with, and there are also deviations in the line-up of the rhythm section. Despite the naive text, this composition seems like a believable intercession , which further underlines the spiritual mainstream of the album: “God sends us his rainbow , and I see his colors. Without him there is no harmony ”, says Leon Thomas in the text. This piece was added as a second piece “with care as a contemplative conclusion”; in the interpretation of this piece "the means of expression were chosen that were already used by John Coltrane."

Chart and economic successes

The album reached number 5 on the US jazz charts and number 188 on the American Billboard charts for popular music.

Karma sold "better than some rock albums". The economic success of Karma brought Sanders a permanent record deal with ABC-Paramount , Impulse's parent company .

Rolling Stone magazine voted the album at number 4 in its 2013 list of The 100 Best Jazz Albums .


Pharoah Sanders

As early as August 1969, Karma was recognized as “Record of the Month” in the German specialist magazine Jazz Podium . It is particularly emphasized that Sanders is continuing the work of John Coltrane with this record: He has not only based the piece The Creator Has a Master Plan “on a theme that corresponds to Coltrane's worldview and spiritual conception , but he also uses it same musical means to give expression to one's thoughts and feelings. "

“Hardly any jazz recording captured the spirit of optimism of those days so precisely,” analyzes jazz critic Christian Broecking in retrospect. It would encompass "peace-moving flower power and the search for spiritual inwardness" (Marcus A. Woelfle). The poet Sarah Webster Fabio made explicit reference to this in her poem Jujus: Alchemy of the Blues in 1976 .

The record became "the late hymn" of the free jazz avant-garde (Christian Broecking). Sanders itself is one big song, wrote the Afro-American activist and poet Larry Neal in his review of Karma in 1969 in the magazine Cricket founded by Amiri Baraka . It is a "musical sermon" for which a separate temple is needed.

Regardless of whether you like the music of Sanders or not, Trevor MacLaren states in his review of the album for Allmusic , whoever heard this recording cannot deny his musical vision. It is an album that every serious jazz lover should have heard. Scott Yanow called it a true rarity in the All Music Guide Jazz , an “avant-garde hit”, “Free jazz for the general public”, and awarded the album the highest rating of five stars. The music magazine Jazzwise added the album to The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook the World list .

In the meeting at the Jazz Podium in 1969, Sanders' eclectic stance was justified with an alleged orientation towards Coltrane: “In contrast to other free jazz currents, however, it is clear with Sanders ... that by no means one-sided according to the free jazz ideal written and played, but rather makes use of the results of the various stages of development of jazz . "

Criticism of Sanders' aesthetic approach and the "commercial implications" assumed by it was also exercised: Although he tried to " reconcile Ayler's juxtaposition of themes and improvisations with Coltrane's evocative repetitions and progressions by using the themes as a vehicle for increases, which explode in frenetic improvisations. ”While he wanted to“ dissolve ”these two different musical approaches in a“ synthesis ”, he fell behind“ the level of the most advanced free jazz musicians ... as for him the repetition of a given melodic segment was one Upgrading the concept of topic includes. "

Cover versions of The Creator Has a Master Plan

Leon Thomas published a shorter version of the piece on his record Spirits Known and Unknown (1969), also with Pharoah Sanders on tenor saxophone and other musicians from Karma ; Thomas also performed the piece in a version of just under nine minutes at the Berlin Jazz Days in 1970 ( Leon Thomas in Berlin ). The first cover versions appeared as early as 1970: Louis Armstrong sang the piece on the album Louis Armstrong & Friends , which was produced by Bob Thiele on the occasion of his 70th birthday, with the support of Leon Thomas and a big band under Oliver Nelson ; and Don Cherry took the piece on (first in 1969 in Ankara , then in Sweden in 1972), where he made the androcentric "to every" one "every one" made. Further versions followed by King Crimson , at Summit Studios in 1972, Krokodil (1970), Tommy Bolin and Zephyr (1973), Norman Connors (1975, 1977 with Gary Bartz ), The Gun Club (1984), Jamaaladeen Tacuma (1986 ), Bobby Matos & Heritage Ensemble (1993), Howard Johnson (1995) and by Jeri Brown (1998, in a duet with Leon Thomas). The band Santana had the piece in 1973 in their live program; however, no official recording of it has been released. In recent years the track, after a heavily abbreviated trip-hop remix of the original appeared on the acid jazz sampler “Stolen Moments: Red, Hot and Cool” in 1994 , has also been covered by Galliano and the Brooklyn Funk Essentials . Joey De Francesco re- recorded the title with Sanders; it appeared on the 2019 Grammy- nominated album In the Key of the Universe .


  • Ashley Kahn: Impulses! The label that Coltrane created . Rogner and Bernhard Verlag, Berlin 2007. ISBN 3-8077-1026-4

Web links

References and comments

  1. a b c d e f g plate of the month . In: Jazz Podium , 8/1969, p. 251
  2. a b Christian Bröcking: The Scream of the Soularfone. Peace and Happiness revisited . In: taz , February 27, 2002
  3. a b c Christian Broecking: When he talks about the past, then about mouthpieces . In: Berliner Zeitung , September 24, 2004
  4. The record was first released in 1969 as AS-9198. The CD edition was published in 1995 as IMPD 153; a 20-bit edition came on the market under IMP 11532. The two tracks from the album are also included on the double CD The Best Of Pharoah Sanders .
  5. a b c d Kahn, p. 207
  6. This track is split on the (first published) LP. Part I on the A side lasts 19:20, Part II on the B side 13:36
  7. ^ Scott Yanow: Jazz on Record. The First Sixty Years. Backbeat, San Francisco 2003, p. 719. "Alternating passionate outbursts and surprisingly peaceful, spiritual and mellow playing."
  8. a b c d Trevor MacLaren: Review of AllAboutJazz
  9. ^ "I just couldn't be proud about the engineering part of it. Karma had me and the bass player on the same channel, so they couldn't turn me up (separately), so it was very horrible to me at the time, you know ”(quoted from Kahn, p. 207).
  10. cit. after Kahn, p. 206
  11. ^ Gudrun Endress: Leon Thomas . In: Jazz Podium , 4/1970, p. 124
  12. Interview with Thomas in Straight No Chaser # 33 (1995), quoted in n. In Memory of Leon Thomas ( Memento from June 22, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Bart Plantenga: Yodel-ay-ee-oooo. The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World . Florence (KT) 2003, p. 250.
  14. Kodwo Eshun : More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction . London 1998, p. 174
  15. Phyl Garland (Sounds, Ebony 2/1976, p. 22) according to Lonnie Liston Smith later also claimed author rights
  16. German translation of this text from Jazz Podium 8/1969, p. 251
  17. Billboard Charts Pharoah Sanders
  18. Thiele had wanted to sign Sanders since 1965, but couldn't convince the ABC superiors (“What kind of crap is this? This isn't going to sell!”) After Karma appeared, Thiele was asked: “Hey , do we have Sanders under contract? ”He replied,“ No, you didn't want him ”. Thiele has now been commissioned to bring him to the label: "He's hot, get him!" (Quoted from Kahn, p. 201, English edition).
  19. Rolling Stone: The 100 Best Jazz Albums . Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  20. So Marcus A. Woelfle Rondo
  21. "You prophesied the return of mandolins and tambourines and tinkling bells, and triangles and cymbals, and they sided in on beams from Pharoah Sanders as I slept taking me unaware, tripping, blowing my mind."
  22. Kevin Le Grande wrote in his statement: “Coming out of the universal consciousness of mentor John Coltrane and borrowing some of the celestial majesty of his widow Alice, Sanders gets modal-hymnal on the enduring 'The Creator Has A Master Plan' and dazzlingly abstract on 'Colors'. These heady cosmic grooves fed the creative fire of anyone from Roy Ayers to Lonnie Liston Smith in the 1970s and inspired the more discerning purveyors of pro-tools instrumental music such as The Cinematic Orchestra in the millennium ". The 100 Jazz Albums That Shook The World ( Memento of the original from July 11, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.jazzwisemagazine.com
  23. ^ Philippe Carles , Jean-Louis Comolli : Free Jazz / Black Power . Frankfurt am Main 1974, p. 215
  24. cf. on this section Manfred Scheffner (Ed.): Bielefelder Catalog Jazz . Bielefeld 1988 and 2001 and the representation in The Creator Has a Master Plan . ( Memento from April 19, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Jazzsupreme
  25. All quotations from the English edition: The House That Trane Built. The Story of Impulse Records . Granta Books, London 2006
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on March 25, 2010 .