Elliott Sharp Aggregat – Quintet (CF 288)
When Clean Feed Records released renowned multi-instrumentalist and composer Elliott Sharp’s Aggregat in 2012, it was met with a round of bemused, albeit enthusiastic reviews. After all, it was the first session to be issued featuring Sharp’s reed playing as prominently as his distinctively amplified fretwork. For years Sharp has augmented his six-string extrapolations with brief detours on soprano saxophone or bass clarinet and occasionally, tenor saxophone, but rarely for entire tunes – let alone albums. Supported by the intrepid rhythm section of bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith, Sharp was able to convincingly transpose his cyber-punk inflected themes into a primarily acoustic format.
That project led to a new incarnation; bolstered by an expanded lineup, Quintet ups the ante considerably over the previous trio effort. Joined by trumpet phenomenon Nate Wooley and rising trombonist Terry Green, Sharp forgoes his trusty axe altogether, sticking to his trio of horns exclusively throughout this unamplified set. Wooley’s bold use of extended techniques and Green’s highly expressive vocalizations are a perfect match for Sharp’s own vanguard aesthetic; although Sonny Rollins’ muscular lyricism is an obvious influence on the leader’s bristling tenor runs, the tonal manipulations of visionary saxophonists like Steve Lacy and Archie Shepp are even more prominent in his wheelhouse.
Recorded in Bryce Goggin’s studio, the room’s natural reverb and the fact that each composition ranges from a concise two to eight minutes in length lends a sense of sonic cohesiveness to the proceedings, despite the diversity of Sharp’s methodology. “Anabatics” embodies the sort of skirling contours and vertiginous intervals commonly associated with Sharp’s thorny writing, yet the sprightly free-bop opener “Magnetar” evokes Ornette Coleman’s early Atlantic sides, as the three horn frontline deftly navigates the rhythm section’s briskly modulating tempo shifts. The cinematic travelogue “Arc of Venus” showcases an even subtler side of the quintet, its exotic soundscape colored by ghostly muted horns and dramatic mallet work, while the aleatoric impressionism at the center of “Lacus Temporis” is not immediately identifiable as part of Sharp’s oeuvre at all. Nonetheless, such excursions provide an aural respite from more turbulent fare, with Sharp’s young sidemen offering consistently stellar contributions at every turn.
Green proves a most enthralling player, with un-tempered growls, slurs and smears bolstering his vociferous phrases, but it’s Wooley who nearly steals the show. As one of the most inventive and imposing young trumpet players performing today, Wooley’s technical innovations extend Bill Dixon’s legacy, expanding the timbral range of the horn into previously unheard realms of nuance and texture. Attentive to the material at hand, Wooley customizes his tonal approach to dynamically suit each work, plying barely audible metallic cries throughout the spectral meditation “Cherenkov Light” and unleashing well-timed blasts of coruscating white noise on the oblique swinger “Katabatics,” perfectly complementing each piece in turn.
Sharp easily holds his own in the company of these spirited young Turks, matching their unfettered discourse with an experienced fervency that manifests in an expressionistic array of multiphonic split-tones, sustained altissimo refrains and sinuous pitch bends. Emboldened by a collaborative mindset emblematic of the group’s name, Quintet is Sharp’s most conventionally jazz-oriented – and thereby intriguing – album to date.