The Pharaohs

In the Basement

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The Pharaohs only managed one release during their short lifetime, 1971's masterful Awakening. But when the San Francisco-based jazz-funk reissue label Luv N Haight reissued Awakening in 1996, they also came out with a brand-new CD of mostly previously unreleased material called In the Basement. Most of this album was recorded live in 1972, after the already enormous 11-piece band had grown to include four more players, including a sixth drummer. The live tracks are fascinating, because where Awakening sounds like an earthier and more Afrocentric version of Earth, Wind & Fire (which several members of the Pharaohs would go on to found in 1973), the much loopier and more jazz-oriented tracks here sound more like Sun Ra jamming with the P-Funk All Stars. The 11-minute take on the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go Round" is absolutely indescribable, a mix of otherworldly horns and psychedelic guitars over a non-stop African-style groove. Other highlights include the all-rhythm "Drum Suite," a hypnotic blend of organic polyrhythms and chanting, and a stunning cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness" that's the only studio track here. Not quite as wonderful as Awakening, In the Basement nonetheless makes one wish that the Pharaohs had lasted longer, just to see what would have happened next.

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