An album featuring electronic musician and DJ Floating Points (the nom de plume of Manchester, U.K. native Sam Shepherd), the intensity of jazz saxophone icon Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra seems on the surface built to overwhelm. Yet the anchor of Promises is a delicate, seven-note piano phrase that repeats every nine-and-a-half seconds. (Seriously: Time it.)
Sound dull? In fact, it’s enchanting: as if twinkling lights were blinking on, in preparation for Sanders’ warm tenor entrance at 1:28. He undertakes some melodic wanderings which continue as a subtle string bed glides in under him at three and a quarter minutes. His sax will then weave in and out of the mix—letting more frequent but still delicate keyboard lines (both acoustic and synthesized), whisper-thin orchestral tendrils, and his own soft, improvising bass vocal rise to the surface in its place—for the next 41 minutes or so. It sounds more like Sanders is working with Brian Eno.
Ostensibly divided into nine movements, Promises is formatted as a single track (or at least advance press copies of it were). There is both enough stasis and frequent enough fluctuation to make it impossible to tell by ear where the movements separate. Forget about it, then, and focus on the sumptuousness of the many episodes within. One of Sanders’ short statements introduces a gorgeous cello interlude (about 19:15), with the cellist never identified but sounding sublime. A lush and tender event for the strings coalesces about three minutes later, sounding like a movie cue but also carrying deep emotional resonance as it continues to swell. Then there’s a Sun Ra-esque psychedelic synth breakdown about three-fourths of the way through.
As for Sanders, he finally gets a release about 11 minutes before the piece ends, though it remains attenuated: a few coarse yelps, then back to the mesmerizing drones. He’s just a guest in Floating Points’ world … but what a beautiful impression he leaves nonetheless.