Pharoah Sanders, Floating Points, LSO: Promises (Luaka Bop/digital outlets)

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Pharoah Sanders, Floating Points, LSO: Promises (Luaka Bop/digital outlets)

At 80, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders has had a remarkable career in and out of jazz: As a young man he was in rhythm'n'blues bands, then played free jazz with Sun Ra and Ornette Coleman, joined up with John Coltrane in the mid Sixties (two years before Coltrane's death) , recorded with Coltrane's widow Alice on her spiritual albums, worked with Bill Laswell, the Last Poets, Jah Wobble and Terry Callier, and along the way released numerous albums under his own name.

The album Promises with electronic producer Floating Points (Sam Shepherd) and the London Symphony Orchestra finds Sanders in a meditative mood of nine movements which sits somewhere between intelligent ambient and less banal New Age music, the Coltranes' spiritual quests and the holy minimalism found in the work of Arvo Part and the more esoteric ECM releases.

Floating Points provides harp-like washes and repetitions in the early movements while Sanders' long quiet lines gently probe and become hypnotically drawn out towards the middle sections.

In the Fifth and Sixth Movements there is a palpable increase in Sanders' intensity and in the latter – which precises all that went before in its opening section – the LSO emerge to whip up glorious clouds of sound (swathes of strings which have brief Indian and North African allusions as much as the white-knuckle melodrama of a film soundtrack) then normal service is resumed . . .

Or so you may think.

At the end of the following movement Sanders suddenly reaches into his searing free jazz style before the final two sections circle the mood back into dreamy organ-like sections and barely audible passages from Floating Points.

This is quite a trip into the inner realms  . . . but it's a path frequently traveled.

For example as far back as 1978 keyboard player Harold Budd and saxophonist Marion Brown offered the not-dissimilar Bismillahi 'rrahmani 'rrahim on The Pavilion of Dreams album which came out on Brian Eno's Obscure label for enigmatic ambient music.

So a pleasant and mostly restful diversion, but not a major work in Sanders' considerable canon.

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Promises by Pharoah Sanders, Floating Points and the LSO is available now on Spotify here.

Pharoah Sanders was interviewed at Elsewhere here. See also here.

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