Saxophonist Ornette Coleman once described him as “probably the best tenor player in the world.” Emerging from John Coltrane’s groups of the mid-1960s Sanders is known for his overblowing, harmonic, and multiphonic techniques on the saxophone, as well as his use of “sheets of sound.” Sanders is an important figure in the development of free jazz; Albert Ayler famously said “Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost.”
‘Karma’ is Sanders’ third recording as a leader, perhaps the most famous of a number of spiritually-themed albums released on the Impulse record label in the late 60s/early 70s, which have ensured his reputation today. Although it is followed by the brief ‘Colors’, the album is most often remembered for one track, the 32-minute long ‘The Creator Has a Master Plan’, co-composed by Sanders with vocalist Leon Thomas. Some see this piece as a kind of sequel to Sanders’ mentor John Coltrane’s legendary 1964 recording ‘A Love Supreme’ (whose opening it echoes in a muscular yet lyrical opening ‘prelude’, with Sanders playing over a suspended, non-rhythmic backdrop, before the entrance of a bass figure which underpins much of the piece). It features Sanders on tenor sax, along with two of his most important collaborators, the aforementioned Leon Thomas and pianist Lonnie Liston Smith, as well as a supporting cast of musicians who were major musicians in their own right: flautist James Spaulding; French-horn player Julius Watkins; bassist Reggie Workman, who had played with Coltrane earlier in the 60s; second bassist Richard Davis, who had appeared on Eric Dolphy’s landmark ‘Out to Lunch’; drummer Billy Hart, and percussionist Nathaniel Bettis. While later recorded versions of the tune, some of which featured Sanders and Thomas, became shorter and more lyrical, this original contains extended free instrumental sections, particularly the third section, where the saxophonist demonstrates some of the techniques which build his distinctive sound, including a split-reed technique, overblowing, and multiphonics, which give a ‘screeching’ sound.