Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sonny Sharrock: Guitar

Can't say why it's taken almost four years to post a Sonny Sharrock album here, following his masterpiece Ask the Ages, but, in any case, his pure solo album, Guitar, is not far behind on the list of favorite Sharrock records.

Released on Enemy Records in 1986, not long after Sharrock was tracked down by bassist/producer Bill Laswell and convinced to make a comeback in music, this Sharrock/Laswell production was a perfect way to showcase the unbelievable talent that the guitarist possessed.

This is true with his well-known and well-honed slide guitar technique, in which Sharrock ranged and raged up and down the frets like a madman, but it is also true with his affinity for the blues and his knack for melody.  It is all these facets and more that made him the master that he was.

So, yes, there is plenty of rapid-fire playing with the slide and without, but there are also some very beautiful sections with plaintive melodies, soaring soloing and a playful humor that goes far beyond the pyrotechnics.

"Blind Willie" has a memorable melodic statement with a drone-like background as well as soloing that demonstrates what Sharrock could be inventive not just fast, though there's some of that, too.  "Devil's Doll Baby" has a background howling using that slide, while he solos impressively on top to create a wild effect that maybe explains the the title.

"Broken Toys" starts off in a kind of ambient mode with a pretty theme and then solos over that mellower playing, but in a way that is perfectly complementary even as it has contrasting colors.  "Black Bottom" has an old-school rock rhythm motif with a strange, otherwordly background before the soloing takes on a blues direction and includes some of the finest on the record.  "Kula Mae" has another excellent example of a rhythm that supports the often-breathtaking soloing that Sharrock was known the first 1:15, and then the tune changes gear completely into another rock rhythm and some blistering fret work.

But it is the "Princess Sonata" in four parts over thirteen minutes that is the centerpiece of this album, taking all those elements of Sharrock's playing mentioned above and crystallizing them into a fully realized piece of music.  The "Princess and the Magician" section shows Sharrock blazing away, while "Like Voices of Sleeping Birds" takes him into some "out there" slide work.  "Flowers Laugh" has a playful backing, while the guitarists works the frets in a short showcase.  "They Enter the Dream" has a pretty backing statement over which the solo soars majestically and shreds in equal measure, providing a great way to end a remarkable album.

Guitar is a perfectly understated title for this showcase of one of the greatest and most underappreciated guitarists in all of music.  While Sharrock is generally thought of as a free jazz guitarist, he developed a style that was all-encompassing, taking in rock, blues and other forms, as well as jazz, to the point where, to this blogger, there is no label that applies.

Instead, Sonny Sharrock blazed his own musical path from the mid-80s until his untimely passing in 1994.  This album is one of the best ways to appreciate Sharrock in his pure, undiluted artistry, though Ask the Ages is, to this listener, his best work.

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