Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Vinyl
Even when he was a DJ fashioning beats in a techno club in Berlin, Sam Shepherd, aka Floating Points, wasn’t afraid to drop the needle on 20 continuous minutes of spiritual jazz, courtesy of the 1977 song, “Harvest Time” by Pharoah Sanders. Now, the 34-year-old composer-producer and son of a vicar has joined forces with Sanders, the 80-year-old saxophonist and last direct musical heir to John Coltrane’s spiritual legacy, for Promises. A continuous 46-minute opus of luminous beauty spread over nine movements, Promises is composed for saxophone, keyboards, electronics, and 29 string players from the London Symphony Orchestra.
On his most extensive musical undertaking in at least seven years, Sanders conveys a remarkable range of sound and emotion on his tenor. His breath control cracks open extended notes with exquisite vulnerability and reverence; approximates blown kisses and geese departing over the horizon; and affirms faith and strength both solo and in the sonic tapestry of the large ensemble. His mixture of slippery scat and quiet humming around the 11-minute mark is the record’s lone vocal.
Floating Points lives up to his moniker in the various ways he tweaks the textures; prunes the mix to fixate on the saxophone or brief string solos; or gently roils all his ingredients together into a celestial roux. There are times when the strings will dovetail downward as if turned by a knob. Other times their fervent, hive-like vibrations are buttressed by electronics or the rich murmur of organ cleaving through the mix.
A repetitious vamp as resonant as a strummed harp permeates the composition from nearly start to finish like a mantric metronome. A pair of waves, one dominated by strings, the other by electronics, gather, crest, and recede around minutes 26 and 36, respectively—massive and yet subtle to connote their ongoing grandeur as they slowly ebb. Even when the modulations are busy or the collective volume is raised, there is never a sense that chaos or unruliness is intruding upon the calm and the clarity. It is a spiritual world where promises are vowed, simply, and kept.