Review: Elliott Sharp Trio, Aggregat

p>This record has a gleeful, genial madness about it. It’s not the spawn of insanity, it’s the sensation of watching an autodidact demolish conventional wisdom and show the beauty and genius of what can be done by following one’s own path.

Sharp’s brilliance as a musician has an obvious force but is unique and therefore difficult to describe. He uses relatively common elements, even clichés, but puts them together in unconventional ways. This record, a great one and one of the finest of the year, is something like the recordings of Sonny Rollins in a trio setting at the Village Vanguard. Sharp’s saxophone playing — and he has become a formidable saxophonist — has a touch of Rollins in the sound and style, especially in the wry sense with which he both takes apart and takes off from his tunes (there’s also an affinity in both sound and style to Joe McPhee). He pushes the notes around with both intent and a sense of experimentation, and he’s such a quick thinker that even the most unexpected twists and turns come out with coherent logic. He also flits in and out of the beat, at times hitting it, at other times ignoring it, trampolining off the rhythm section with complete confidence that he will land exactly where he expects them to be.

When he picks up his main axe, the guitar, the record pushes over from the edge of free-ish jazz into a sonic maelstrom. There are torrents of notes, again always clearly articulated, placed in time and absolutely meant, and what is disorienting is how he just doesn’t run up and down scales but works forward and backward through an inner range that he is defining at the same time that he’s seeing if he can take it apart. It’s improvised thrash, but with a level of musical skill and intellectual focus (and a sense of humor) that are thrilling and pleasantly bewildering — you have no idea how he does it, yet you love what he does.

Packed with fantastic playing in every moment, and with an almost conventional post-punk, “Satan Sandwich,” at the end. Sharp is one of the finest musicians of the last couple of generations, and this is the finest music-making, in a long career of music, that I’ve yet heard from him. Highest possible recommendation.


Author: gtra1n

I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.