How does a legend of yesterday create a summative body of work with a synth maestro from two generations ahead? Not to mention that a whole orchestra is coupled to their project. On paper, Promises was quite the promise, and the titling of the project was interesting considering it coincided with a Xiu Xiu release date, and their opus with a peculiar album cover was named "A Promise".
I've never really delved into this realm of music a whole lot. Pharaoh Sanders' "Live In Paris, 1975" was on repeat for me last year, and so was Floating Points' Crush, two projects reccommended to me via Spotify. On here, the saxophonist, producer and ensemble all work to their strengths to create a surprisingly mininmalist project: I am not sure as to what I was contemplating in my mind, but I was expecting a maximalist IDM/Sax/Orchestral crossover that bent genres. That's not what it is, but it ended up very safe, reassuring and pleasant. I still fail to fathom that this collaborative went through, but the product is certainly one to take note of. It is Pharoah Sanders' saxophone that triumphs over every other musical element of Promises, however the rest of the bag is no slouch.
Promises gets off to a relatively slow start. There is a gentle set of chords, most likely to be credited to Floating Points present subtly across the whole board, but this melody is the most rife amongst the first three tracks on the record. These tracks are quite possibly the least interesting on here, sadly, and this painted me the wrong way about the rest of the record. They aren't uninventive, but the ideas grow stale quickly. Pharoah Sanders steals the show by breaking into the gentle synth palette with his riffing, but he begins to also riff vocally from track 3 and 4.
The tonality of his playing is as strong as it was decades ago, and therefore he is still a trusty hand at the instrument despite his advanced age of 80. The horn is also accompanied by a non-descript set of background noises. The intricacies are present, and interesting to ponder upon despite my given lack of experience with this field of music. The wooden creaks, vehicular noises and a whole lot more do not form a centerpiece, nor do they overpower the instrumentation at any points, but they are symbols of proper effort taken into the composition of the record.
The synths warp and revolve around your headspace, keeping things interesting despite the long passages of cohesive sound. On Movement 4, we see the introuduction of both vocal riffing from Sanders, and the Symphony themselves. The orchestra is none other than the oldest and finest orchestra of London. And while many detractors over the years have claimed they aren't the finest hands in the orchestras of London, just like Sanders, they are a reliable hand for Sam Shepered to work his ambitions on.
Ultimately, for the once DJ, his ambition has finally been translated into clarity with these projects that won't get mainstream fanfare, nor will it for false indieheads like me, but beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, or the ears, and true afficionados will take time to appreciate every nook and cranny of this record. Getitng back on track, it is after the fourth movement that things really start to click into order. From here, the musical aspects get finer by the minute, as it slowly builds into the album's core masterpiece, Movement 6/7. Movement 4 and 5 are great supplements to it, but the sharpness of the sax and the orchestra is the clearest on Movement 6 and 8. But 7 is the true masterpiece, which I'll get to.
It is quite the long term rewarding listen, I had to put it on repeat for hours for it to really gel with my tastes and grow on me. But when it did, I instantaneously raised my score because I felt like I had failed to give credit to how beautiful these soundscapes were. Especially when studying, this is the type of music I'd put on the background that doesn't tax me out yet doesn't obstruct my pattern of study. The LFO is dormant for the most part, which is self-explanatory as it is clear that they had the least contribution to this project, but on the final two tracks they are the heroes, as their shaking runs prove to be a fitting closer to the slow-burning record. But it is Movement 7, coupled to it's long intro that truly touches the potential this collaborative had on paper. Both Floating Points and Sanders are at the top of their game on this sole track, and the progressions are experiemental. There are also some fruitful chords beneath the orchestration on Movement 8 that are stuck in my head.
For Pharoah Sanders this is a work of brilliance so late into his career as his emotionally sullen horns prove to be the decisive factor here. While I expected more experimentation like the stunning seventh track, we can't ask for it all as it still is quite the summative experience, although false snobs like me aren't the right audience this caters to. The LFO might've done the Star Wars series, but this is proof they are amongst the finest. And for Floating Points, this won't get too much accolades from his early fanbase, but it will cement him a wider legacy in the circle of modern music. It's quite literally a massage in musical form as it can cool your nerves down, but also, the punchy saxophone can give you the right dose of energy. Save for the last four tracks I won't be coming back soon, but I got to commend this project nonetheless.