‘I imagine he’s in the cosmos, hearing music’: Floating Points on his landmark album with Pharoah Sanders

The UK producer has never spoken about one of the century’s most acclaimed records, Promises, until now. He recalls bonding with the late jazz legend over okra curry – then making a masterpiece

On 24 September 2022, Sam Shepherd arrived at a hospital in Los Angeles a few moments after the saxophonist Pharoah Sanders died, surrounded by members of his family. Shepherd had left a DJ gig in New York halfway through when he heard that the titan of spiritual jazz had suffered a stroke. When he finally reached Sanders’ bedside after a flight to the west coast, he felt comforted. “I was pleased that we could see him with his spirit leaving him slowly, because he just seemed so peaceful,” he says. “It felt like he was truly there with us, just in his usual meditative state. We were playing music in the room for hours, just listening to music that Pharoah liked.”

The previous year, Shepherd (under the name Floating Points) had released one of the decade’s most acclaimed albums, Promises, in collaboration with Sandersand the London Symphony Orchestra. The contemplative, 46-minute, nine-movement suite ended up being the spiritual jazz titan’s final recorded exhalation. Mostly instrumental, Promises ebbs and flows, propelled by Shepherd’s patient, luxurious arrangements. There are oceans of strings washing within waveforms and countermelodies whose ingredients include rickety upright piano, harpsichord, celeste and vintage synthesiser – and Sanders’ breathy, expansive tenor sax and brief, glorious vocalisations.

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