Promises is an album I never would’ve imagined to have been created, yet here I am talking about it. British producer Sam Shepherd, aka Floating Points, and experimental jazz legend Pharoah Sanders coming together to create a collaborative ambient album seems like something of a strange dream. But this is no dream.
Shepherd wrote the nine movements that make up Promises, which is a quiet record built of synth and electronic textures, as well as Sanders’ tenor sax playing. And in-between these two are cushioned string arrangements performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. It’s an extraordinary album that stays subtle when it could’ve gone for over-the-top.
Floating Points is no stranger to working and writing for an ensemble, having put together the 16-piece Floating Points Ensemble to perform Floating Points works live. And Sanders, well at 80-years old the jazz legend has performed in ensembles with John Coltrane, Don Cherry, Alice Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, as well as band leader for his own ensembles. Sanders had heard Floating Points’ Elaenia in 2015. The two became friends and Sanders’ brought up the idea of collaborating together. Shepherd wrote Promises as that collaboration.
The sonic world built in Promises is a mysterious one. Shaded and dream-like, strings intermingle with electronics and Sanders’ eloquent, lush saxophone. “Movement 1” carries the weight of decades of spiritual jazz and forward-thinking new school composers. It has the lush texturing of Philip Glass with the open-hearted sensibility of Coltrane, Andrew Hill, and of course Sanders himself. Experimental jazz legend Albert Ayler once said “Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son. I was the Holy Ghost.” You can hear a “bigger than us” quality here.
Throughout these nine movements the instruments ebb and flow, with Sanders’ even using his voice in “Movement 4”, bringing to mind Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The album keeps its original motif throughout until the last two movements, which morph into subtle psychedelia and almost noir touches.
Promises is modern classical, experimental, and ambient all rolled into one. The collaboration of Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders is a triumph of creativity and spiritual connectivity.
8.6 out of 10