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Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages

Chris M. Slawecki By

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In 1994, guitarist Sonny Sharrock died from a sudden heart attack at age 53, leaving behind a body of cutting-edge jazz guitar compositions and recordings that still sounds ahead of its time.

Ask the Ages (1991, Island), Sharrock's last official release, literally was one for the ages, recorded with an amazing quartet which teamed the guitarist with bassist Charnett Moffett and two powerhouse musicians greatly influenced by the sturm und drang of John Coltrane, drummer Elvin Jones and reedman Pharoah Sanders.

In 2015, bassist and producer Bill Laswell, with whom Sharrock frequently recorded in ensembles of varying complexity, remastered, enhanced and re-released Ask the Ages into the new millennium. Through Laswell's re-production, Sharrock sounds like he is still waiting for the future to catch up to him.

It's not easy to find another guitarist to whom Sharrock compares—perhaps James Blood Ulmer, but that's pretty much it—although saxophonists Coltrane and Ornette Coleman at least provide a little context. In "As We Used to Sing," the guitarist employs what became known as Coltrane's "sheets of sound" before slam-banging headlong into heavy metal and industrial styles and whipping up one of the most insanely adventurous guitar power trio sounds you'll ever hear.

"Promises Kept" opens with Sharrock spinning out a spiraling, twin towers guitar riff, harmonizing with itself, to introduce Sanders' solo, which quickly turns into overblown vocalized shrieking, more sound than music; Jones constantly churns an avalanche of rumbling, tumbling drums beneath their craggy and perilous, hard as a rockslide, solos.

Bassist Moffett maintains the voice of reason, strong and sure, among three of jazz's most combustible soloists. "Little Rock" swings from his fulcrum almost like jazz, with an opening head that sings like a swing band brass chart, underlined by Jones' swing-style cymbals, while Sanders and Sharrock muse through abstractions of be-bop.

Even if Ask the Ages can sometimes sound as if guitarist Sharrock and saxophonist Sanders have no idea where the bass and drums are going to take them—had Laswell tweaked its production with a more metallic sound on its bass and guitar, "Many Mansions" would suggest a free-form, experimental blues by Black Sabbath)—they all go there together, even if not in always the exact same direction, at two hundred miles per hour!

Track Listing: Promises Kept; Who Does She Hope to Be?; Little Rock; As we Used to Sing; Many Mansions; Once Upon a Time.

Personnel: Sonny Sharrock: electric guitar; Pharaoh Sanders: tenor and soprano saxophones; Charnett Moffett: bass; Elvin Jones: drums.

Title: Ask the Ages | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: M.o.d. Technologies

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