Were it not for Bill Laswell's efforts in the '80s, guitarist Sonny Sharrock probably wouldn't have reached nearly as many ears as he did. Recordings like the 1991 masterpiece Ask the Ages
shed light on his electric free/rock/energy leanings, though Sharrock was already making his first leaps as a leader with Black Woman
(Vortex, 1969) and Monkey-Pockie-Boo
(BYG, 1970; recently reissued), both unfortunately marred by Linda Sharrock's annoying vocalizations.
French guitarist Noël Akchoté outdoes Sharrock's relative obscurity by several notches in the not-so-vast netherworld of experimental improvising guitarists, despite his recordings for Winter & Winter, Rectangle, and other labels. But Akchoté has made no compromises with his music, which leans from jazz into ambience, abstraction, electronics, and noise. The solo disc Sonny II is part of "a long process of recordings" that pay tribute to Sonny Sharrock, and to the extent that Akchoté appreciates the importance of stretching the boundaries, he's got the essence well figured out.
Whether or not you get to read Akchoté's thoughts on the music (mysteriously missing from my copy's liner notes, but present on Winter & Winter's web site ), it becomes clear early on from listening that he views the rough, unfinished quality of Sharrock's approach as central to its success. That means not being afraid to do things "wrong" or make "mistakes," and not overintellectualizing the process while you're at it. There's something liberating about just leaping in there and playing the guitar.
These nineteen tracks include nine Sharrock originals, five Akchoté pieces, and assorted others that fit into the big picture one way or another. Almost half are under two minutes, and with the exception of the eight-minute closer, none of the rest persist at any length. That means maximum variety, which is a good thing, but also a wandering, nomadic feel that detracts from consistency. Regardless, none of this is easy listening anyway.
Highlights include Daniel Humair's fun, funky "Melvins"; a quick, soaring "She's Only Fourteen" (which appeared as "Fourteen" on Sharrock's Seize the Rainbow ); a joyous strum through "There is a Mountain," by Donovan Leitch (yes, that Donovan); and Akchoté's own droning "Joe" and weirdly exploratory "Terry." Akchote's clean, jazzy version of "Young and Foolish" comes with a heap of club background noise, and the appropriately-titled (at least in a relative sense) "Long Tale" that closes the record captures the sense of wandering that characterized some of Sharrock's work.
Sonny II is thoroughly flawed, to the extent it's disjointed and underdeveloped, and to some that might be reason enough for disqualification, but I don't think Noël Akchotéor Sonny Sharrockwould have it any other way. To be sure, Akchoté doesn't pack the same raw, visceral punch that Sharrock did. But his roots are clear, his debts are paid, and this record is proof.