Written Before Listen
So…I don’t know where to start. The only person I am familiar with, out of these names is the legendary Pharoah Sanders who is one of the most legendary names of Spiritual and Avant-Garde Jazz. Doing a little research, I was caught by a huge surprise finding out that the London Symphony Orchestra did the film score (alongside John Williams) for my favorite movie franchise…Star Wars. Yeah I know call me basic but I grew up watching Star Wars and that is what made me a huge fan of retro-futuristic art in any medium. Floating Points aka Sam Shepard on the other hand is an electronic music producer who turns out to have a pretty decent following behind his name. Prior to this review, I’ve never listened to a Floating Points album. I’ve only listened to the film score for Star Wars from the LSO. The musician I have the most experience with is Pharoah Sanders. creating what is considered to be one of the best Spiritual Jazz albums of all time and as well as helping out Alice Coltrane with an album that is arguably in my top 5 when talking about jazz. With that being said, we are getting a jazz musician, electronic producer and a whole entire orchestra for this project. These are three genres that I’ve yet to review so sorry for the inexperience. Doesn’t mean that I’m here for the challenge though.
So one thing that stood out to me right away and I think the same will go for you is that 7 note motif that happens over and over throughout the entire piece. The motif itself is meditative and mystical with a lot of density surrounding it. What my inner musician did on the other hand is figure out what chord the 7 notes made. For those who care, its an Fm9/13 chord. Sounds complex right? Imagine improvising over that for 46 minutes and try your best to make it sound cohesive. Exactly
Floating Points Performance
With this being mainly a classical and jazz piece, you’d probably wonder how an electronic producer such as Floating Points comes into play here. Not only he plays some of the live instruments himself but he also brings a lot of great instances of progressive electronic music. Especially in “Movement 3” where its mainly synth based to start with. “Movement 7” also has a heavy emphasis on the electronics around the mid-point too. I also think “Movement 7” is where the electronics surprise you the most because the majority of the time, Floating Points takes the time on the Celestes, pianos and harpsichord (basically providing us with that 7 not motif). I also think Shepard’s additions here are all necessary at one point or another and it creates something way more futuristic and hypnotic than what was probably planned.
Pharaoh Sanders Performance
Seeing a Pharoah Sanders project anywhere in 2021 is quite shocking. Being 80 years of age and being someone who cares more about spirituality than music these days makes him look like one of the last people to drop an album this year but here we are. At 80 years of age, Pharoah Sanders straight up dropped his most popular release since Karma and for great reason too. His contributions here are like the finishing touch. His saxophone playing is filled with eccentricity and personality. We also can’t talk about Sanders’ contributions without talking about his performance in “Movement 4” where he puts the saxophone down and does an avant-garde vocal performance. Although it caught me off guard, I remember the experience I had with Pharoah’s work on Karma and JIS and that made me realize that I was bound to hear some oddities in this piece. Good job Pharoah
Alongside Shepard and Sanders, we have the iconic London Symphony Orchestra. God damn…..what they do here is incredible. The string work, The horns, the subtle drums they are basically the backbone of what makes this experience cohesive. For a person who has listened to his handful of jazz and electronic records, classical isn’t a genre I’m insanely familiar with and even then, I think the classical elements on this album are my favorite part. Especially in “Movement 6” where the strings come in full effect. I’m telling you. The orchestral contributions are just BEAUTIFUL!!!!!
Well, let’s just say it. I love this album. I will point out some cons nonetheless. I think the cohesion is there and the chemistry is there, but I think what’s missing here is the replay value. I honestly don’t know how frequently I’ll be in the mood for this record and despite being as good as it is, I don’t know how many people I would recommend it to. It’s mainly an enigmatic release that is strictly for the hardcore music fans (and also people who just listen to jazz and classical). Other than that though, Promises shows the intelligence, chemistry and improvisational skills of all musicians taking part.
As of 04/26/2021, this is album of the year