Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages

What kind of crazy world is it when a record as monumental as this can remain out of print? Featuring Sonny on guitar, Pharaoh Sanders on tenor and soprano, Elvin Jones on drums and Charnett Moffett on bass, it is the jazz record of the 1990s and certainly deserving of a place in any "best of the 90s" top ten list, regardless of genre...

If you don't know who Sonny Sharrock was, dig this nugget from his All Music Guide bio:
"Of the electric guitar's few proponents in avant-garde jazz, Sonny Sharrock is easily the most influential; he was one of the earliest guitarists to even attempt free playing, along with Derek Bailey and Sonny Greenwich. Sharrock's visceral aggression and monolithic sheets of noise were influenced by the screaming overtones of saxophonists like Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler, and his experiments with distortion and feedback predated even Jimi Hendrix. Naturally, he provoked much hostility among traditionalists, but once his innovations were assimilated, he enjoyed wide renown in avant-garde circles."
Sonny was semi-retired from music throughout the late 70s and parts of the 80s. By the time Ask the Ages came out in 1991 Sonny had been gigging regularly for a few years in a variety of Bill Laswell-led projects.

Ask the Ages was Sonny's masterpiece. In playing, songwriting, group chemistry, etc. Again, from All Music:
"It's the most challenging jazz work he recorded as a leader, and it's the clearest expression of his roots as a jazz player, drawing heavily on Coltrane's modal post-bop and concepts of freedom...It's far and away the best, most adventurous, and most jazz-oriented backing group Sharrock recorded with during his comeback, and the results are breathtaking. The compositions are all Sharrock originals, and all six have utterly memorable themes that often recall the sweeping lyricism of Sanders' most spiritual '60s works. For his part, Sanders responds with some of his most ferocious playing in years, and Sharrock sounds vitally energized by the tenor's screeching passion. There isn't a wasted moment on the album, but particular highlights include the fiery, majestic opener, "Promises Kept," the searching ballad "Who Does She Hope to Be?," and the awe-inspiring blast-fest "Many Mansions," where Sharrock and Sanders both reach a blistering's his overall musicality that's on display, but there's still plenty that will scare the bejeezus out of timid jazzbos. It's a tragedy that Sharrock didn't get much of a chance to expand on this achievement, but thankfully it exists in the first place."
Sonny died unexpectedly in May 1994. He was 53. I am so happy to say I was able to see Sonny perform live twice.

Please enjoy this record.

UPDATE: A kind reader let me know that this record is in print digitally from at least two online retailers. Click here for the info. Knowing that, I am going to yank the full album download.

Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages