Promises is the most surprising musical collaboration of 2021, bringing together avant-garde jazz legend Pharoah Sanders and contemporary British electronic producer Floating Points, both backed by The London Symphony Orchestra. Their combined forces have produced one of the most gorgeous and powerful albums of the year.
Promises is built around one central motif: a peaceful ascending melody, and how the composition goes about disrupting that peace offers a lot to chew on. The melody is the first and only thing we hear in the beginning, a blissful heartbeat, the comforting constant of the piece. Soon, Sanders’ saxophone is introduced as the counterpoint, his sparse presence offering intense character and emotion against the lush Blade Runner-esque soundscapes Floating Points builds. It’s transfixing, but Movement 6 is where the album truly starts to develop.
Symphonic swells drown out the motif, which becomes increasingly skeletal as the strings take over and form a seal of fearsome tension that blocks the peace from coming through. On Movement 7, Sanders’ performance sounds drained and defeated, his breath and the clacking of his keys are just as audible as the instrument he’s blowing into. It’s a tragic low that nearly kills the music, leaving only hazy, directionless ambiance in its wake. But structure soon returns and rises to great heights as Sanders breathes new life into the piece with outstanding heart and passion, reviving the heartbeat of the motif, and pushing the album onward to an inconclusive fate. It’s the most remarkable moment on the album.
Much of the best jazz is built around the relationship between peace and chaos. Promises gives new meaning to peace with ambient atmospheres and trades chaos for orchestral climaxes. The elemental relationship is still there, and beautiful performances give the relationship so much meaning. Perhaps it represents forces of evil working to combat collective peace within the world. Perhaps the conflict is internal, the happenings of the outside world affecting personal peace. Maybe it’s even more elemental, the melody representing a literal heartbeat, with the passage of time disrupting it. Promises ends in silence, returning you to the sounds of the world around you and imploring you to make these kinds of considerations. In its minimalism, Promises becomes incredibly expansive. Peace, no peace, peace, uncertain future. In other words, how everything works. At the very least, Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and The London Symphony Orchestra have created an album containing tremendous emotion and beauty.