On Record: Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra: Promises


reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Promises may have only just been released, but it is a high-level collaboration five years in the making. Floating Points, the electronic alias for Sam Shepherd, teamed up with senior jazz royalty Pharoah Sanders to record their parts for the album in Los Angeles in 2019, while the orchestral parts, arranged by Shepherd, were set down by the London Symphony Orchestra at Air Studios in the summer of 2020.

What’s the music like?

The album is essentially one span of music lasting three-quarters of an hour, divided into nine sections. Everything germinates from a deceptively simple seven-note motif given out by the keyboards at the start, and from this minimal and seemingly unremarkable start a gradual climb of intensity begins.

Sanders is used sparingly, which makes his saxophone contributions all the more meaningful. The statement in Movement 1 has a spiritual air. Shepherd, too, operates well within himself as far as density of musical notes is concerned, supplying dappled colours in response to the saxophonist’s chant-like figures. This is notable because anyone who is familiar with the rich, luminous colours of Floating Points’ previous album Crush will know the energy and rapid movement his music can generate.

The influence of Ravel remains as part of the orchestral style, especially at the start of Movement 2, where everything is written in thrall to the saxophone, giving Sanders the room he needs to work his magic. Promises develops as a meditation, the seven-note motif underpinning almost everything. Movements 3 and 4 develop a vocalise, the addition of a glockenspiel giving a sound that glitters at the edges. Sanders returns with greater urgency, then pulls back to a magical and breathy Movement 6, where the long lines of a solo cello shine. This ushers in the strings’ big moment, and with a swell of intensity the musical waves crash on to the shore.

From here the tide pulls back, giving room for more thoughts from Sanders. This time the build is towards a more dissonant but similarly exultant climax, reaching for the skies in a musical murmuration of upper strings and electronics. From here everything subsides to a peaceful close, the seven-note motif murmuring for one last time.

Does it all work?

In every way. Many collaborations between electronics, jazz and / or symphony orchestra miss the mark because of balance issues, with everything turned up too loud or with too many notes given to too many instruments, or because one or more of the musical parties are not on the same wavelength. This makes Promises all the more remarkable, for even the LSO strings, adding their contribution a year hence, are fully in the moment.

The ‘less is more’ approach of this collaboration pays off in every way. Sure, the music is slow moving, but that is an essential part of its appeal, a meditation for large forces securing the most intimate of responses.

Is it recommended?

Without question. Promises is an enchanting album, spanning its magic across the 45 minutes – after which the listener will simply wish to repeat the experience. It crosses genres effortlessly, appealing to fans of jazz, classical and electronica without becoming rooted in any of those areas. It is simply wonderful music for meditative thought.

Intriguingly we are told to ‘stay tuned for the next chapter of Promises, which will be announced soon’. If that proves capable of following up what is already one of the best albums of the year, we will be well and truly spoilt!




Online music recommendations – Summer sessions in London

With the continued restrictions on live performance preventing orchestras from performing in the conventional sense, ensembles have been giving concerts and subscriptions online. Two of the biggest London orchestras have been running series through the summer which are highly recommended.

The London Symphony Orchestra have been giving a series of Summer Shorts at LSO St. Luke’s through July and August, and is set to conclude in thrilling fashion with a concert from the LSO Percussion Ensemble on Friday 21 August at 1pm. You can watch it on the LSO website here

The programme begins with Chick Corea’s Duet Suite, arranged by Simon Carrington, before two pieces from Gwilym Simcock – his Quintet, which the ensemble have already recorded, and the shorter piece Barber Blues.

Also available to watch is the concert from the Friday just gone, given by the piano trio Belinda McFarlane (violin), Jennifer Brown (cello) and pianist Elizabeth Burley. Their intriguing hour of music begins with Judith Lang Zaimont’s Nocturne, before A Winged Spirit, the new piece from Hannah Kendall. Wrapping things up is Rachmaninov’s passionate but seldom heard Trio élégiaque no.1:

Across town in the Henry Wood Hall, the different sections of the London Philharmonic Orchestra have been giving concerts for reduced forces. Their Summer Sessions began on July 15 with a rather lovely set for strings, including the Elgar Serenade for Strings, the first Concerto Grosso of the Op.6 set by Corelli and Grieg’s sunny Holberg Suite:

Then the winds stepped up on two weeks later, playing Rossini’s Sonata no.1, Mozart’s wonderful Serenade in E flat major K375 and Janáček’s Mládí:

Brass and percussion were next, with a program of fanfares and divertimenti featuring works by Sir Malcolm Arnold, Richard Bissill, Leonard Salzedo, Stanley Woods and Simon Carrington:

Finally the orchestra will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a vibrant program including the Septet in E flat major, the Quintet for piano and wind and the lesser known Trio for piano, flute and bassoon. You can catch that concert on the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s YouTube channel here

On record: London Symphony Orchestra / François-Xavier Roth – Panufnik Legacies III (LSO Live)

Panufnik Legacies III:
Ashby Desires (2016)
Campbell Frail Skies (2015)
Giguère Revealing (2015)
Horrocks-Hopayian A Dancing Place (Scherzo) (2010)
Lee Brixton Briefcase (2011)
Morgan-Williams Scoot (2015)
Roth Bone Palace Ballet (2014)
Sergeant but today we collect adds (2008)
Shin In this Valley of Dying Stars (2016)
Siem Ojos Del Cielo (2008)
Taplin Ebbing Tides (2014)
Whitter-Johnson Fairtrade? (2008)

London Symphony Orchestra / François-Xavier Roth

Producer Jonathan Stokes
Engineer Neil Hutchinson
Recorded 26-27 April 2019, LSO St Lukes, London

LSO Live LSO5092 [67’54”]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Operating since 2005, the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme (in memory of the Polish-born British composer) has enabled a generation of aspiring artists to be heard on an international platform, with results that are rarely less than diverting and sometimes not a little compelling.

What’s the music like?

Ayanna Witter-Johnson questions the ethicality of third-world production in the interests of Western consumerism via an eventful while (purposely?) inconclusive interplay of grinding rhythms and ominous harmonies. Ewan Campbell draws on meteorological conditions of the sky for this study of no mean textural and timbral finesse, though what is much the longest piece rather loses focus in its fraught closing stages. Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian toys with concepts derived from Ancient Greek theatre, Classical concepts of democracy and the Marx Brothers in this scherzo whose gender-specific aspects go for little assessed purely as music. Donghoon Shin takes his cue from the nature of stars in a piece whose overtly impressionist elements do not preclude episodes of more purposeful activity, even scintillating virtuosity.

Alex Roth seeks to convey notions of human experience through a diverse orchestral palette – submerged within, an 1888 recording of Handel’s Israel in Egypt adds its intriguing temporal resonance. Matthew Sergeant draws on disparate objects displayed at a 1953 exhibition for a sequence of vignettes whose unforeseen interconnectedness results in unlikely yet engaging variations on the initial premise. Patrick Giguère seems intent on conveying that process of ‘revealing’ less as a reduction in musical layers as of accessing the essence of the composer, which proves worthwhile more in theory than in practice. Sasha Siem takes up the notion of ‘‘the eyes of a person who is absent or no longer there’’ for a piece where the struggle of a melody to break into the foreground creates palpable tension in the shortest of these pieces.

Bethan Morgan-Williams gives preference to clarinets in music whose sudden transformation from nonchalance to anxiety is achieved with appealing verve and an ultimately barbed irony. Michael Taplin has contributed a study in (as its title suggests) emergence and evanescence such as the orchestra is well equipped to convey, provided that the music does not outstay its welcome. Benjamin Ashby seeks to reconcile opposites – namely those of the flesh and of the spirit – in a process where understated antagonisms (inevitably?) seems rather more arresting than even their tentative reconciliation. Finally, Joanna Lee draws upon memories of cassette players (presumably those formerly referred to as ‘ghetto-blasters’) that frequently enlivened inner-city environs during the 1980s, albeit with greater visceral impact than is evident here.

Does it all work?

Mostly, and not least because François-Xavier Roth draws playing of unstinting commitment from the London Symphony Orchestra. His support for the Panufnik Composers Scheme has been a primary factor in its success over the past 15 years and will doubtless continue to be so.

Is it recommended?

Yes, notwithstanding a relative lack of underlying rhythmic energy or cumulative momentum with almost all these pieces. Anyone interested in sampling what is on offer should head to the Shin, Sergeant or Siem pieces (though not necessarily in that order!) then proceed from there.



For further information, audio clips and purchase information visit the LSO Live website

LSO: Always Playing – Steve Reich Quartet & Sextet tonight @ 7pm

Tonight’s installment of the LSO’s online series ‘Always Playing’ is a smaller-scale affair, as the LSO Percussion Ensemble deliver two of Steve Reich‘s more recent works for percussion.

The Sextet, a substantial work from 1993, is complemented by the Quartet completed 20 years later, a more challenging and fragmented composition.

The team – percussionists Neil Percy, Sam Walton, Gwilym Simcock, David Jackson, Simon Carrington, Philip Moore and Joseph Havlat – add works from Joe Locke (Her Sanctuary) and Makoto Ozone, Simon Carrington’s arrangement of Kato’s Revenge.

You can read more about these works in the booklet notes for the concert here – and the performances themselves, given at LSO St Luke’s across concerts in October 2015, March 2018 and February 2019, can be seen on the orchestra’s YouTube channel from 7pm tonight here:


LSO: Always Playing – Katia & Marielle Labèque, Szymanowski and clarinet masterworks tonight @ 7pm

There is an enticing potpourri of 20th and 21st century music from the London Symphony Orchestra on tonight’s installment of the LSO’s online series ‘Always Playing’.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the orchestra in the Hungarian Peasant Songs from Bartók before they are joined by tenor Edgaras Montvidas for Szymanowski‘s seldom heard but exotic ballet Harnasie. Then clarinetist Chris Richards steps up as the soloist for works composed by Stravinsky and Bernstein for the great Woody Herman</strong).

However the main work of the evening's concert is a big, half-hour concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra from Osvaldo Golijov. Nazareno, completed in 2009, is based on themes from La Pasión según San Marcos, and is fronted by the Labèque sisters, with percussionists Gonzalo Grau and Raphaël Séguinier.

The performance, from Thursday 13 December 2018, can be seen on the orchestra’s YouTube channel from 7pm tonight here: