There are collaborations that come along every once in a while that practically guarantee greatness. This collaboration between Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra is one of the very few that guarantees something truly outstanding. What's even more special is that this collaboration wasn't even the idea of Floating Points - the DJ and electronics wizard Sam Shepherd - but the result of a discussion between the label (David Byrne's Luaka Bop) and Sanders himself, who professed an admiration for Shepherd's work.
After a run of releases that blur lines between electronic, minimalism, and psychedelic rock, it's not surprising that Floating Points' new venture is a 46-minute single piece of neo-classical-jazz minimalism. What's perhaps more surprising is the fact that this album is performed in full not just with the London Symphony Orchestra, but also led by free-jazz legend Pharoah Sanders. Despite these players' histories in creating abstract noise, Promises is one of the most unexpectedly quiet and beautiful albums of the year so far.
In a 2020 interview with The New Yorker, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, who turned 80 last October, said he hadn't been listening to records for a while. "I listen to things that maybe some guys don't," he said. "I listen to the waves of the water. Train coming down. Or I listen to an airplane taking ….
"I'm on a ship. In the ocean. Bears around smoking cigars. The bears are singing, 'we have the music. We have what you're looking for'." In Pharoah Sanders' dream, his five-year-in-the-making album sounds mighty different to what you might expect from cigar-smoking bears in the middle of the ….
As a backing musician during John Coltrane's cosmic phase, throughout sessions with Alice Coltrane and Sun Ra, and spanning his 57 years as a fearless bandleader, Pharoah Sanders remains the last living arbiter and living legend in what's been known as "spiritual jazz." But on Promises, the first LP to don his name since 2003's The Creator Has a Master Plan, Sanders positions himself not as the focal point but as one of many elements that define this sweepingly stunning classical, jazz and electronic piece. Across the nine movements that make up the 46-minute LP, Sam Shepherd (a.k.a. Floating Points) never forces things into the nostalgic free jazz era that helped define his recording partner.
Presented as a seamless 46 minute composition, Promises is the long-overdue culmination of a project that started with a duo session between Shepherd (on keyboards and electronics) and Sanders (on his trademark tenor saxophone) in Los Angeles. To complete these recordings from 2015, the string section of The London Symphony Orchestra added their not-inconsiderable grandeur at a socially distanced, one take recording session in London last summer. Promises matches the patience required for the project's realization.