Pharoah Sanders’ fifth outing for Impulse! (and sixth LP overall) is a mélange of some of his music’s most alluring qualities. Gutsy free-jazz improvisation, memorable melodies, soulful open-ended vamps, widely varied instrumentation: Sanders knits all of this into one harmonious statement. Thembi marks pianist Lonnie Liston Smith’s last appearance with Sanders as well as his first playing Fender Rhodes electric piano, on which he lights up his original piece “Astral Traveling.” In this electric setting, Sanders’ soprano sax isn’t terribly far off from the sound of Wayne Shorter with Weather Report (their eponymous debut came out the same month, May of 1971). “Red, Black & Green” is the tenor sax blowout of the set, with Michael White on violin and Sanders layering more than one tenor track. Bassist Cecil McBee gets a full unaccompanied solo on “Love,” while “Thembi” and “Morning Prayer” epitomize Sanders’ penchant for extended vamps over simple, colorful chord progressions. The latter, co-written by Sanders and Smith, finds the leader beginning on the harplike koto before moving to alto flute and finally tenor, backed by a plethora of African percussion. With “Bailophone Dance,” the whole band becomes a percussion ensemble, joining drummer Roy Haynes in an exuberant send-off with Sanders on fife, cow horn, brass bell, and the West African balafon, heard most clearly during the long fade-out to the end.

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