When Pharoah Sanders passed away in Los Angeles on September 24th, 2022, at the age of 81, the legendary tenor saxophonist was on the cusp of a truly unique accomplishment in his storied career. And that’s saying something, given a résumé that includes collaborations with Sun Ra, John Coltrane, and Alice Coltrane, among others.
That same week, Pharoah Sanders was due to meet with Sam Shepherd, better known as Floating Points, to finalize plans for a one-time-only performance of their 2021 jazz-classical collaboration-turned-highly acclaimed album, Promises, at the Hollywood Bowl. Nearly a year later, Floating Points made it to the famed outdoor venue for that one-off performance. But while Sanders wasn’t around to lend his sax to the proceedings, the entire evening served as a celebration of his 60 years in music.
The night began with a performance by the Sun Ra Arkestra, with whom Pharoah collaborated frequently during his life. For nearly an hour, they filled the balmy night air with Afrofuturistic free jazz—some of it pulled from the group’s 1974 sci-fi musical, Space Is the Place.
After a brief intermission, the L.A. Studio Symphony String Orchestra settled onto the stage. They were soon followed by Floating Points and an all-star ensemble that featured Shabaka Hutchings on saxophone and flute, Four Tet on keys, Caribou on a collection of electronic instruments, Kara-Lis Coverdale on keys, Jeffrey Makinson on the electric organ, and Hinako Omori on celesta, along with Lara Serafin and pianist John Escreet in support. Together, they brought Promises to life with all the lush depth and detail that brought the album, which had the backing of the London Symphony Orchestra, such critical acclaim.
Whether it was Shabaka blasting into the stratosphere on woodwinds, the String Orchestra rising to its own crescendo, or Floating Points, Four Tet and Caribou fiddling around on their selection of uncommon instruments (electronic and otherwise), each movement of the piece came with moments of sonic experimentation that stretched the bounds of even the headiest musical imagination.
Tying all those seemingly disparate threads together was the same haunting, seven-note refrain played over and over and over again—as if that combination of notes, when played enough times, might bring Sanders back to life. In some ways, they did. That repeated central theme served as the palate upon which so many talented and accomplished artists converged to, in essence, pay tribute to Sanders by lending life to his last recorded work.
In that way, the Promises that Sanders made with Floating Points at Sargent Recorders in L.A. came full circle as Promises kept by a collection of brilliant musicians in the hills above where the collaboration at its core came together.
Check out a gallery of images from Pharoah Sanders’ Promises live at Hollywood Bowl courtesy of photographer Farah Sosa on behalf of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Promises – Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, CA – 9/20/23 – Full Show
Sun Ra Arkestra – Hollywood Bowl – Los Angeles, CA – 9/20/23 – Partial Video
[Video: Rockodile Channel]