Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra
It’s funny isn’t it – if this album wasn’t being raved about I’d be disappointed. Because it is so hyped right now I’m almost wondering if some of the reviewers are hearing “too much” in it. I’ll have to settle on the combination of names involved lending such gravitas that what’s left of the music press lined up to fall over themselves. And as someone that never paid the membership to actually be part of the music press I therefore didn’t get the memo.
That rather pointless but attempting to be pointed intro aside, Promises by British composer and producer Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) with living legend and jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, oh, and just the little ole London Symphony Orchestra is utterly gorgeous. I love it. I’ve spent a lot of time with it – it’s 46 minutes and 37 seconds long and I had to count it since time seems to stop whenever it is on.
It’s just an ambient album! I wanted to say. And then I realised that upwards of 60% of what I listen to could fall into that genre or at least might dip a toe in its waters. So what’s wrong with just being an ambient album? Nothing whatsoever – but that’s just me trying to work out why this album has got the coverage. Let’s settle on it being due to Sanders’ involvement (and his exquisite playing). He’s in his early 80s now, a lone survivor from classic John Coltrane line-ups, a man that made about 30 albums as a leader himself and also worked not just with John but Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry, Sun Ra, Terry Callier, Sonny Sharrock, Ornette Coleman and Idris Muhammad to name but a few.
Here his saxophone is the guiding light as Shepherd’s softened bleeps and bloops are sometimes there and often almost not really there at all – in an arc of music that rises, falls, and lives to rise again with just the tiniest moment of freak-flag shriek-jazz wildness that crams itself into the correct space. The rest of the time the music isn’t even quite music a lot of the time, it is instead a mantra, a meditation all on its own, a set of musical principles to enjoy.
I listen to it – I experience it – I enjoy it, and sometimes love it and yet at the end of each listen I scratch my head somewhat as to how it actually fell into place, what was it even, how did it get created and why is it so hypnotically entrancing. That means that I take back any cynicism or near-bitterness around almost everyone falling under the spell of this. And I play it again and sometimes again for a third time in a row.
This album is an installation. It’s a piece of art that hangs in the air but only as it’s happening. Hit stop or let it play out and then it’s back in the box. But as you hit play the air curves, and these sheets of sound are draped across it. It’s not that all seems right in the world, more that the world itself goes on pause. That’s a magic trick worth remembering. Surely.