A soft harpsichord-like pattern repeats every nine seconds, interwoven with a warm tenor saxophone. Strings pour into the musical tapestry.
Such is the delicate masterpiece of Promises, a jazz album released in March 2021 by Floating Points, legendary saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra.
It is my pick for the best album - jazz or otherwise - from last year.
British electronics artist Sam Shepherd composed the music to this nine-piece movement and contributed to various instruments. And he recruited the London Symphony Orchestra to perform on it.
And there is the 80-year-old Pharaoh Sanders, one of the greatest improvisational musicians of all time.
This album eluded me for so long, simply because I did not know what it was called. I thought the title was Floating Points by Pharaoh Sanders, and it wasn’t until December that I learned I had been searching in the wrong place.
I must admit I had never listened to an album like this before. I’ve never known jazz to recruit electronics or to sound ethereal quite like this one. But this is one of the most beautiful collections of music I’ve recently listened to. And I have listened to it again and again, and again now as it spins on my turntable and shakes with Sanders’ intensity. The fifth movement.
I get up from my couch, flip over the record and stare at my speakers. The music is so soft, so delicate that I sometimes wonder if the speakers are even functioning. The faint sound of a cello cuts through the nine-note pattern (probably played on the celeste?). The sixth movement.
The symphonic elements soar, the strings float in the sky and ascend into a whimsical crescendo. The seventh movement. The music reaches its apex and then, suddenly, silence.
Nine seconds later, the seven-note pattern repeats itself. Ten minutes later into the second side, Sanders begins improvising on the saxophone again.
Close to a minute passes by without sound. I get up again to turn off my speakers. Soon as I reach for the needle, the music resumes.
In 46 dreamlike minutes this album shows me the boundless universe in which music exists. It’s less of a record, and more of a soundscape. Dreams are not as imaginative as this collection of music is.
This is not something in my wildest imagination that I could have envisaged music to sound like. Nor is a collaboration between an electronic artists, a jazz legend and a symphony one that I would suspect to be real.
And yet here I am, listening to this for possibly the sixth time in three months. The world seems to move at hurtling speed, bombastic and uncaring for those who fight against its relentless strength. Promises is the counterweight to that. Time freezes, reality halts. Music is suspended above you, pulling you away from the brutality of the calendar.
track album of the day: Promises, by Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra
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