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Elliott Sharp: Syzygy

Don Phipps By

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Immaculately recorded by Italian label Dodicilune, Elliott Sharp's Syzygy continues Sharp's explorations of spontaneous and improvisatory sound. He and his collaborators offer up studio versions of Syzygy on the first disc and live versions of the material on disc two. As much modern classical as abstract jazz, it is the musical textures and abstractions that give the album its dream-like eeriness.

The instrumentation offers a twist as well—eschewing drums, Sharp populates his music with computer devices, "objects," and the theremin, an instrument comprised of two metal antennas that allows the musician, in this case Gak Sato, to control the frequency and the volume of the sounds emitted. The result is a music that is a bit Outer Limits—as though one were listening in the vacuum of space.

According to Sharp, "Syzygy defines the temporal alignment of celestial bodies within a gravitational system at one cosmic moment...." Within this "gravitational system" the musicians contribute harmonic and rhythmic impulses that keeps the music shifting (and at times revolving and rolling), not unlike passing through chambers of doors that open and close again and again. Listening to Giancarlo Schiaffini slide about on the trombone (sounding at time like a French horn as much as a trombone), while Walter Prati strokes and bows the cello and Sergio Armaroli adds plinks and splashes on the vibraphone, opens the imagination. And Francesca Gemmo's effort, whether it is repetitive bass notes, dark piano string thumping or eerie dissonance, gives the album a weightlessness that help sustain the atmospherics. Sharp stays in the mix, though his guitar, like Piccolo's bass and vocals, is more often used for effect than any straightforward playing. But that's fine—after all, the abstract interplay of these musicians is "in the 'cosmic' moment."

Like Dada, the music of Syzygy seems radical. Is Sharp questioning the nature of music, its syntax, and vocabulary? Possibly. Or is it an attempt at expressing physical notions of reality in music? Like other works of art, the resolution to these questions lies with the listener.

Track Listing: Syzygy (Studio Version 1); Syzygy (Studio Version 2); Syzygy (Studio Version 3); Syzygy (Studio Version 4); Syzygy (Live Version 1); Syzygy (Live Version 2); Syzygy (Live Version 3); Syzygy (Live Version 4).

Personnel: Elliott Sharp: guitar, computer devices; Steve Piccolo: voice, electric bass, objects; Giancarlo Schiaffini: trombone; Walter Prati: cello; Francesca Gemmo: piano; Gak Sato: theremin; Sergio Armaroli: vibraphone.

Title: Syzygy | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Dodicilune

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