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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Sunday, 16 May 2021 03:47

Floating Points And Pharoah Sanders - Promises

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Stunning minimalist collaboration delivers on its Promises.

Floating Points is not so much a band, as a moniker used by pianist, DJ and producer Sam Shepherd. His music is hard to categorise, but floats between electronica, jazz and occasionally the more psychedelic sounds of early 1970s Pink Floyd too. He had been on KoJ's radar for many years now, with Simon Cooney a particular fan of his work. Read his review of the wonderful Mojave Desert mini-album here.

Shepherd counts Claude Debussy and Bill Evans amongst his many influences, but there are element of Philip Glass's elegant minimalist pieces on his latest project - Promises - which sees him team up with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra

The project came about when Sanders came across the debut album by Floating Points, Elaenia, back in 2015, and was impressed by what he heard. They arranged to meet, and decided to work on a new project together. The resulting album is a series of nine movements, all based around a simple, and gradually shifting series of notes, played by Shepherd on synthesiser, piano and harpsichord. Sanders, now eighty years of age, adds his distinctive tenor saxophone, his contributions subtle, allowing the music to breathe, and varying with intensity as the mood shifts from movement to movement. 

The changes and shadings introduced by Shepherd are gradual. Whilst Movement 1 is sparse, and serves as an introduction, Movement 2 sees the introduction of synthesiser, courtesy of Shepherd, and strings, courtesy of the London Symphony Orchestra, which allows Sanders to rise in search of more rarefied air.

As you would expect from the more minimalist influences, the changes are gradual and subtle. Movement 4 sees Sanders contribute his improvised, wordless vocals, before returning to the saxophone, whilst Movement 6 sees the strings build, allowing Sanders to respond, demonstrating that he is not simply there to add colour. Movement 7 sees the strings recede, the background becoming spacier and more abstract, with Sanders demonstrating a more breathy tone to his playing, allowing the notes to break into one another, before Movement 8 becomes more psychedelic in tone, whilst maintaining the elegant simplicity of the original structure.

Promises has mostly received stellar reviews, but there have been complaints that Sanders was used too sparingly, and that the piece was "frustratingly slight" (Uncut magazine). I would disagree with these points, and feel that Shepherd introduces enough variation in each movement to keep things interesting, whilst never outstaying its welcome - as can happen when minimalist pieces are stretched too thin. In the same vein, it's wrong to expect Sanders to be playing with the same fire as he did fifty years ago; rather it's a thrill to be hearing him play once more, and pointless to make such comparisons.

Take a listen to the album here, and draw your own conclusions; it's one of my favourite albums of the year, and may well be on your list, too.


Read 609 times Last modified on Sunday, 16 May 2021 12:41

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