Elliott Sharp Trio – Aggregat (CF 250)
Long revered for his innovative approach to the electric guitar, composer Elliott Sharp’s laudable but lesser known skills as a saxophonist finally come to the fore on Aggregat. Accompanied by bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith, Sharp performs on soprano and tenor saxophones, in addition to his main axe. In light of Sharp’s oeuvre, this atypically straightforward trio setting intriguingly frames his progressive aesthetic within the context of a cross-generational ensemble.
Jones came to prominence performing with the Jazz Passengers and Marc Ribot in the Downtown NYC scene, a decade after luminaries like Sharp and John Zorn had established a creative foothold. Smith’s resume bridges the gap between generations, with memberships in the bands of veterans such as Ribot and Tim Berne, as well as in those of younger peers like Mary Halvorson and Trevor Dunn. Transcending differences in age and experience, the trio revels in freewheeling avant-garde accord, infusing every twist, turn and detour of Sharp’s idiosyncratic interpretations of the jazz tradition with vim and vigor.
Although Sharp’s solo guitar recording Sharp? Monk? Sharp! Monk! (Clean Feed, 2006) confirmed his interest in more conventional aspects of the jazz canon, little in his discography (other than some soundtrack work) will prepare listeners for the thorny saxophone driven bop that dominates this session. The buoyant opener, “Nucular,” is dedicated to Sonny Rollins and exudes the sort of pliant rhythmic sensibility and bracing melodic invention that the honoree is renowned for, albeit intensified with an expressionistic, Ayler-esque flair. More abstract fare, like the spiky “Mal Du Droit” and the roiling “Estuary,” emphasize Sharp’s most outré sensibilities; his glottal avian refrains and warbling trills negotiate all manner of vertiginous angles and dissonant intervals, oblique structural facets that Jones and Smith keenly underscore with an elastic sense of time and wide range of textural dynamics.
Half the tunes highlight Sharp’s singular saxophone prowess, while the remainder feature his kaleidoscopic fretwork, which is as distinctive as his highly personalized reed technique. From the reverb-drenched surrealism of Spaghetti Western-inspired fanfares (“Satan Sandwich”) and wily deconstructed blues (“Hard Landing”), to blistering free bop (“The Grip”), futuristic cyber-punk (“Positronics”) and phantasmagoric tone poems (“Refractory”), Sharp’s peerless six-string wizardry surpasses stylistic limitations as readily as genre clichés.
Though sonically adventurous, Aggregat is ultimately far more accessible than Sharp’s usual releases, revealing a diverse array of multihued charms upon repeated spins.