Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra Promises Luaka Bop
At first glance, a joint album from Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra might trigger alarm bells. When such high profile artists get together, the results are often underwhelming at best, and Lulu at worst. Thankfully – having spent his career pushing the outer limits of jazz with the likes of Sun Ra and John Coltrane – Pharoah Sanders is selective about where to lend his talents, and Promises is a record more than worthy of his canon.
The album arrives as a single 45-minute track, split into nine movements, with Sanders leading on tenor saxophone and Sam Shepherd playing, producing and writing much of the rest; the LSO provide the strings, but the arrangements and compositions are helmed by Shepherd.
The album begins meditatively. Shepherd’s sparkle of chimes and synth leave plenty of room for Sanders to cut though with a yearning saxophone, searching for something unseen. However, as the record rolls on – and the strings build – it shapeshifts into a claustrophobic, cacophonous work of the sublime. Violins tremble, tension builds and the open space that defined the record’s opening third is swallowed up whole; Sanders’ stabs of saxophone the only sound capable of puncturing the heady storm.
Then, the clouds break and we’re floating again. Sanders’ gentle rasps soothe while hallucinatory snippets of Hammond organ and Rhodes piano drift by, returning listeners not quite to the state of serenity that opened the album, but to a similar, if slightly more unsettling calm.
Certainly the most ambitious record of Shepherd’s career to date and probably the best, Promises is dream-like and totally captivating throughout. It’s also that rare thing: a high profile collaboration that’s more than just the sum of its parts.