Friday, June 01, 2007

Sonny Sharrock - Black Woman (Vortex, 1969; 4 Men With Beards, 2001)

Avant-garde jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock came to the attention of the musical public in an interesting way, by taking part in mainstream jazz flautist Herbie Mann's band. To Mann's credit, he apparently never tried to reign in Sharrock's improvisational flights and in fact encouraged him - to the point of producing this, his first solo LP. Joining him on this album are Linda Sharrock on vocals, Dave Burrell on piano, Norris Jones (aka Sirone) on bass and Milford Graves on drums. Sharrock's wife Linda plays a fascinating role in the music, as her wordless vocals ranging from moans to screams take the place of a reed instrument. Indeed at times on this record, she contributes a unique and personal version of the sounds Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders were exploring in this period. The Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum during this period and there is a strong thread of black nationalism running through the album, most notably on "Black Woman" and "Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black" where Sonny fires out molten shreds of guitar and Linda responds with anguished cries. Sharrock doesn't use a tremendous amount of feedback on this album, his lines are clear, and often bubble ominously between the bass and drums. "Peanut" is the most outre track, with the band pinning their ears back and engaging in a collectively improvised free jazz blowout. Graves and Jones are a fascinating rhythm pair. While they often eschew traditional timekeeping duties, their support of the guitar and vocals and their participation in the collective phases of the music are a key ingredient in its success. "Blind Willie" is an interesting curio as well, an interlude for acoustic guitar that Sharrock would return to again on his classic solo LP Guitar. Here he strums and picks an individual take on the delta blues, foreshadowing James "Blood" Ulmer's recent fusion of blues and free jazz. This is not for the feint of heart, but it is a consistently interesting album for anyone interested in the outer fringes of jazz. Sharrock's guitar concept was unique at that time and this album really sounds like no other.

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