Pharoah Sanders, Floating Points & London Symphony Orchestra Combine for Lush, Dreamy Soundscape On ‘Promises’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

This project defies much description. Nonetheless, we do some of the background information on the participants. Notably, this is the first time you will find Pharaoh Sanders on a recording in 15 years, and in an unconventional setting, to say the least. The project, Promises, is the brainchild of Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points, who has been called “the baron of immersive beats” and “one of contemporary music’s most forward-thinking talents” by two prestigious publications. Floating Points’ first two albums Elaenia (also released on Luaka Bop) and Crush both placed on several year-end critics lists.

A restless, ever-evolving producer and composer, Shepherd has toured with the xx and holds a doctorate in neuroscience.  The third piece of this incomparable sound experience is the ever-willing London Symphony Orchestra. The music creates a trance-like, reflective mood that just washes over the listener that could only be created with the convergence of these three principals. The elements of supposedly jazz, electronica, and classical merge forces but don’t expect this sound to necessarily fall into any of those camps. Chances are you have never heard anything quite like this.

In fact the best description just be might this passage from Sanders in his dialog with Shepherd, a conversation published as a press release for the project – 

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.’ 

Sam Shepherd is an electronic music composer with a background in classical and jazz who goes by the name Floating Points. Born outside Manchester, England, Shepherd studied composition at the prestigious Chetham’s School of Music. In his early twenties, he moved to London where he developed a singular approach to sound and composition through a series of early singles, EPs, and remixes. In 2015 he released Elaenia, his debut album as Floating Points, with mesmerizing ebbs and flows that spanned moments of light and dark; rigidity and freedom; elegance and chaos. There were songs of euphoric enlightenment, testament to those early days Shepherd spent playing in various ensembles — complete with an immensely tight rhythm section that ends up providing a cathartic, blissful release. Two years later he made the film and accompanying soundtrack Reflections – Mojave Desert, a sonic exploration of the environment under the endless desert sky. While his score mirrored the landscape — soaring and vast, dynamic and intimate — Shepherd placed microphones to capture the natural reverberant textures of the desert, with the undulating sound of wind, a bird call, and the rustling of bushes that created a backdrop on which much of the record rests.

Pharoah Sanders should need no introduction but for “equal time,” we continue. He performed with John Coltrane on his late-career free jazz masterpieces and then released a string of expansive recordings under his own name for the Impulse! label which have been cited as a pivotal influence by everyone from The Stooges to Marvin Gaye. 

Although Sanders makes few public appearances or interviews, he did both this past Fall around his 80th birthday, appearing at the virtual Detroit Jazz Festival and in a virtual performance a month and half later with Azar Lawrence in Los Angeles. Shepherd says about Sanders: “There’s something about the saxophone, about the way it amplifies the player’s breathing that makes it feel like you’re inside their body. Listening to Pharoah play on this piece, it was like the instrument was an extension of his being, like it was a megaphone for his soul.” 

Founded in 1904, the London Symphony Orchestra was started by a group of players who left the Queen’s Hall Orchestra because of a new rule requiring players to give the orchestra their exclusive services. It became the first British orchestra owned by its players, and over a century later its fiercely independent ethos has never waned. It was one of the first orchestras to make gramophone records and film scores; and has made more than 200 soundtrack recordings for cinema, including Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter. This is an orchestra that works across a variety of settings, with the last Wayne Shorter project, Grammy-winning Emanon, with Gregory Porter, and on a forthcoming project with Mali kora master Toumani Diabete, to name just a few.

Here are the credits below. In addition, the album features artwork by the acclaimed visual artist Julie Mehmet.

Pharoah Sanders: Tenor Saxophone and Voice. 

Sam Shepherd: Piano, Harpsichord, Celesta, Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, Oberheim 4 voice & OB-Xa, Solina String Ensemble, Therevox ET-4.3, EMS Synthi, ARP 2600 and Buchla 200e. 

The strings of the London Symphony Orchestra.

This might be some of the most calming music you have ever heard. It is billed as “a private listening experience.” Put this on before you go to sleep, and it should certainly relieve any tensions or anxieties. Peace.

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One Response

  1. Hi, I’m listening to the album and love it. I was also drawn to the cover art so did some research. You have the artist’s name credited incorrectly. The artist’s name is Julie Mehretu.

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