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Studio album by Pharoah Sanders
Released 1971
Recorded November 1970/January 1971
Genre Jazz
Length 41:12
Label Impulse
Producer Ed Michel/Bill Szymczyk
Pharoah Sanders chronology
Black Unity
Wisdom through Music

Thembi is the seventh album by free-jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, released in 1971.


In this album, named after Sanders's wife, the saxophonist moved away from the intense, lengthy, percussion-heavy jams he'd been pursuing in his solo work up to that point, and produced a record made up of shorter tracks, often with a more light and breezy feel. During the six selections, he and the other musicians play a huge variety of instruments - he alone plays tenor, alto and soprano sax, alto flute, fifes, bailophone (African thumb piano), various small percussion instruments, and even a cow horn. This adds to the air of typical 1970s avant-garde jazz experimentation, which gives rather an eccentric, if intriguing effect (on one track Cecil McBee is credited with "bird whistles"). Thembi could be described as an anomaly in his output from this period due to shorter, more concise tracks, and the fact that there is much less of the leader's trademark free jazz tenor sax screaming than previously (though, to be fair, his previous works did have long, lyrical sections). About the only track where he really seems to let rip is "Red, Black and Green", where the use of studio effects gives a fearsome effect, and the energetic, tribal "Bailophone Dance".

Vocalist Leon Thomas, whose yodelling and crooning were included on Sanders' best-known album, Karma, is not present, but Sanders' other major collaborator, pianist and composer Lonnie Liston Smith, performs on Thembi (though this would be the last time they recorded together). His presence is a major factor in tracks such as "Astral Travelling" and "Morning Prayer." Also featured are violinist Michael White, bassist Cecil McBee (he contributes a five-minute solo, "Love"), and percussionists Chief Bey, Majid Shabbaz, and Nat Bettis. The album has yielded several of Sanders' best-known tracks: "Thembi", "Astral Travelling' and "Morning Prayer" were all included on the two-disc career anthology, You've Got to Have Freedom, on Soul Brother records.

Lonnie Liston Smith began experimenting with electric keyboards while recording this album:

On Thembi, that was the first time that I ever touched a Fender Rhodes electric piano. We got to the studio in California — Cecil McBee had to unpack his bass, the drummer had to set up his drums, Pharoah had to unpack all of his horns. Everybody had something to do, but the piano was just sitting there waiting. I saw this instrument sitting in the corner and I asked the engineer, 'What is that?' He said, 'That’s a Fender Rhodes electric piano.' I didn’t have anything to do, so I started messing with it, checking some of the buttons to see what I could do with different sounds. All of a sudden I started writing a song and everybody ran over and said, 'What is that?' And I said, 'I don’t know, I’m just messing around.' Pharoah said, 'Man, we gotta record that. Whatcha gonna call it?' I’d been studying astral projections and it sounded like we were floating through space so I said let’s call it 'Astral Traveling.' That’s how I got introduced to the electric piano.[1]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
allmusic 4/5 stars[2]

Thembi has been criticised for its somewhat cut-and-paste feel (it was compiled from two sessions, recorded in 1970 and 1971); the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, written by Richard Cook and Brian Morton, offers a particularly harsh assessment. However, Ashley Kahn, author of The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records, describes it as "a career high-point: [it was] co-produced by Michel and rock producer Bill Szymczyk, who together introduced Sanders's music to advanced studio techniques of the day — close miking, overdubbing, and effects like reverb, echo, and phasing."[3] allmusic gave the album a four-star rating (of a possible five), and reviewer Steve Huey described the album as offering "an intriguingly wide range of relatively concise ideas, making it something of an anomaly in Sanders' prime period.… Some fans may gripe that Thembi isn't conceptually unified or intense enough, but it's rare to have this many different sides of Sanders coexisting in one place, and that's what makes the album such an interesting listen."[2]

Track listing[edit]

  1. Astral Travelling (5:48)
  2. Red, Black & Green (8:56)
  3. Thembi (7:02)
  4. Love (5:12)
  5. Morning Prayer (9:11)
  6. Bailophone Dance (5:43)

Personnel and recording details[edit]

Tracks 1-4 recorded at The Record Plant, Los Angeles, CA, November 25, 1970. Track 4 is an unaccompanied bass solo.

Tracks 5-6 recorded at the Record Plant, New York City, January 12, 1971.


  1. ^ "Interview With Jim Newsom". 2007-04-03. Retrieved 2012-02-01. 
  2. ^ a b Huey, Steve. Thembi at AllMusic
  3. ^[dead link]

External links[edit]