Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Floating Points / Pharoah Sanders / The LSO - Promises (Luaka Bop, 2021)

A daring album that attempts to meld electronic sound, free jazz and orchestral music, Sam Shepherd, who performs under the name Floating Points has been working on this album for nearly five years. Shepherd's synthesizers and keyboards are met by the legendary tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra. The music is a nine part unbroken suite with movement markers for navigating the piece. "Movement 1" begins with a probing electronic motif that serves as the basis for the suite and will repeat for its entire length, Sanders enters with a well worn tone that marks the earthly opposite to Floating Points sky and cosmos. They work well in the liminal space between composition and improvisation, electric and acoustic, Pharoah playing with the patience of someone who has spent a lifetime on the musical and spiritual path. The music broadens on "Movement 2" which incorporates a large curtain of strings with Sanders' gruff saxophone as a marked contrast. "Movements 4 - 5" are the centerpiece of the album, where the three disparate parts come together as vocalizing leads to long and longing tones of saxophone, like the setting sun, Pharoah's tone and approach to the instrument is instantly identifiable and unique. He moves to a lighter tone for "Movement 6" but the orchestra swells and quickly gains presence. Strings well up and take over, becoming shrill and fractal at the conclusion. Sanders returns on "Movement 7" playing with the soft beauty people often don't give him credit for, amid the shimmering electrons that creates an otherworldly fusion / krautrock fantasia, with Pharoah punctuating the performance with a fast and urgent blast of sound. They gradually come back to Earth on the final two sections, "Movements 8 - 9" where Floating Points develops a huge droning effect for electric keyboard and then rounds it out with a short swirl of orchestra. This was a fascinating album; while the three actors at play here seem to be Frankensteined together at times, when the combinations work, particularly sections where Floating Points electronics meet Pharoah Sanders' saxophone the resulting music comes close to a state of grace. Promises - amazon.com

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