Pharoah Sanders
Pharoah Sanders’ sax materialises alongside the teasing keyboard refrain © Redferns

Promises are wonderfully weightless things — a vision of the future. They are usually optimistic. They are also easier to make than keep. There are all sorts of ways to break a promise, not all of them deliberate. An album that fails to live up to its promise, for instance, might be said to have broken it.

Five years in the making, Promises sets a high bar for itself in terms of expectations. It is the fruit of a collaboration between a diverse set of musicians. Floating Points is the stage name of UK composer and producer Sam Shepherd. Pharoah Sanders is the eminent US saxophonist who played with John Coltrane and pioneered a form of playing called “spiritual jazz”. They are joined by 29 string musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra. 

The music consists of nine seamless movements lasting 46 minutes. It opens with a chiming keyboard fanfare, a rippling sound that climbs up the scale and then pauses with a “ta-da”. This minimalist motif is repeated throughout the piece, like a promise being constantly renewed. 

Sanders’ sax materialises alongside the teasing keyboard refrain. He plays a slow, warm solo, filling the acoustic space with easy grace rather than overbearing self-assertion. It is punctuated by a passage of scatting and humming from the saxophonist, vocalised sounds that play with our expectation to hear voices utter words. 

Album cover of ‘Promises’ by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the LSO

The LSO's string players come to the fore midway through, creating a big orchestral sound that climbs and twists as though buffeted by the elements. Then calm descends again with a pastoral section of electronic psychedelia from Floating Points. Brought together with skill and patience, the music is immersive and richly detailed. It ends by fading into silence, the sound of a promise fulfilled.

★★★★★

Promises’ is released by Luaka Bop

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