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Artist
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra
ReleaseProduct
Promises
Label
Luaka Bop
Catalogue Number
LB0097
Release Date
March 26, 2021

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Genres

“Promises” was anointed pretty much straight out the gate as a masterpiece. Some bristled at the rush to canonise a record while it was still cooling on the windowsill, but let’s be real here: a new album from legendary 80-year-old musician Pharoah Sanders qualifies for merit alone. Hearing one of the greatest saxophonists on this or any other planet turn in a transcendental performance, patiently pacing before breaking loose with expressive freedom, is all the more a pleasure.

Patience is the operative word to keep in mind when listening to “Promises”. By all accounts it took a while for Floating Points, aka Sam Shepherd, to convince Sanders to break his interregnum in the first place. While Sanders obviously does not require Shepherd to validate his art, perhaps he needed a younger foil to procure a late-career work of this scope. Although he remains a fixture on the touring circuit, when you tally his output in the 21st century, you don’t exactly need extra hands to count the number of albums Sanders has released. If you discount live recordings, you don’t even need your second.

With one foot still in the enduringly colossal deep-digging DJ scene — see how any combination of FloPo, Four Tet, Mafalda, Antal et al sell out auditoriums within seconds — Shepherd has matured into a dependable album-artist in his own right. He has form working as a foil to elder statesmen, evinced early into his career by a set of fabulous collaborations with James Holden and now-departed gnawa master Maâlem Mahmoud Guinia. No matter where he travels in the future, the duty of care afforded to Sanders is surely a lock to be part of Shepherd’s all-time highlight reel.

The album is anchored around a recurring seven-note leitmotif, and certainly doesn’t elide a gradual build-up. The first two of “Promises”’ nine movements are sparsely populated, which feels as if you’ve walked into a show ahead of time, as the supporting players are wiggling in their chairs and Sanders is readying himself with soft, low tones. Slowly Sanders begins to speak up — literally for a spell on ‘Movement 4’ — as the London Symphony Orchestra arcs and winds around his cyclical exhalations. By the album’s second half the intensity has demonstrably ramped up, as Sanders goes for broke and Shepherd hammers down on the organ. The dams have broken and the effect is riveting.

It’s hard not to think about the Coltranes while listening to “Promises”. For one, Luaka Bop (founded by David Byrne and curated predominantly by Yale Evelev) released the sumptuous Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda compilation “World Spirituality Classics 1” in 2017, embellishing a knack for beautiful archival work which was already established by bringing Tim Maia and William Onyeabor to wider audiences. And then there’s the fact that Pharoah Sanders is one of the last living musicians who played alongside both Alice and John, plus Don Cherry, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, and many more besides.

Sanders’ performance of air and fire here is sure to spark ideas and inspiration amongst jazz’s vibrant new generation. It makes “Promises” not just a link to the past, but a bridge to the future.

Sam Shepherd (Floating Points): Pharoah...

Pharoah Sanders: Huh...?

Sam: Were you asleep? I'm sorry...

Pharoah: No no... I was listening... and dreaming... and listening to music in my head...

Sam: Oh wow... sorry.

Pharoah: Many times, people think I might be asleep... but in fact, I am just listening to music in my head. I'm always listening... to the sounds around me... and playing, in my mind... and sometimes I dream.

Sam: What were you dreaming about?

Pharoah: I'm on a ship. In the ocean. Bears coming around smoking cigars. The bears are singing, ‘We have the music. We have what you're looking for.’ I say, ‘Really?’ And I was making fish dinners. Shark..Lobster. Got all kinds of fish. And you know, a good pie. Pumpkin pie. You like pumpkin pie?


Pharoah: How you like that take, Sam?

Sam: It's cool. I think the bit in the middle, where it stops again...I think you can hear...We were both kind of confused. I like it as well because it sounds like two musicians that are trying to guide each other.

Pharoah: I think that's it right there. It came out different. It came out good though.

Sam: You happy?

Pharoah: Yeah, I'm cool with it.

Sam: Okay. Yeah, I think you're playing is beautiful.

Regardless of the confluence of events that led to this dream pairing, there’s a strong hint of clear-minded innovation to Promises. The debut collaboration LP from electronic musician Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points and legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, backed to a lavish fullness by The London Symphony Orchestra, feels like the murmurs of an entirely new language for jazz, quite distinct from either participant’s prior output — in fact, it seems to illuminate a hidden lexicon we didn’t know either artist had in the first place.

We say jazz, but Promises truly defies categorisation with its moody atmosphere and indeterminate music-like patience. The nine movements of the LP gently cradle a circular note pattern in the way of a minimalist classical piece, as a flood of synth and string drones gradually fill the empty spaces in-between. As this deep meditation progresses, Sanders recalls his adventurous past work with the Coltranes by undergoing his own inner journey, his sax flitting between conversational licks, esoteric mouth sounds and white-hot fury, bobbing against the rising tide of electronics, organs and orchestra swells.

Digital Tracklist

  1. 1 Movement 1 6:24 Buy

    Movement 1

  2. 2 Movement 2 2:31 Buy

    Movement 2

  3. 3 Movement 3 2:32 Buy

    Movement 3

  4. 4 Movement 4 2:31 Buy

    Movement 4

  5. 5 Movement 5 4:25 Buy

    Movement 5

  6. 6 Movement 6 8:50 Buy

    Movement 6

  7. 7 Movement 7 9:28 Buy

    Movement 7

  8. 8 Movement 8 7:22 Buy

    Movement 8

  9. 9 Movement 9 2:09 Buy

    Movement 9

  • Promises

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