Friday, February 16, 2018

Sonny Sharrock - 1987-10-29, Schauburg, Bremen, Germany

This one comes from another dive into my Sharrock archives, and it's a corker. By 1987, Sharrock's celebrity was established via Last Exit and their noise madness, not to mention a stint with Ginger Baker's short-lived No Material band. I think they lasted like three gigs, which has to be some kind of record.

Anyway, when he wasn't ripping frets off alongside Bill Laswell, he was making some compelling solo records. Guitar is a solo record, picking up where he'd left off and giving things a bluesy, reverb-drenched vibe; Seize the Rainbow has a full band and some of his most magical moments as a player. Is it too obvious to cite the way he works up and down on "Dick Dogs," making his guitar ring like a church bell, shriek like a wolf and roar like a lion? It's some of the wildest playing on record, and Sharrock makes it seem easy.

This show is somewhere between those two poles. At times, Sharrock's playing is slow, deliberate and moody, at others it roars and sizzles with as much power as anything Neil Young's ever cooked up. And throughout, it showcases what a tasty blues player Sharrock was, easily as exciting as James "Blood" Ulmer ever was, and not as far removed from Elmore James as one may think: witness the way the both use an overdriven guitar and a slide to blast riffs like they're a wrecking ball.

There's exciting moments throughout: the lengthy Fourteen, she slow-burning "Seize the Rainbow" and a full-band working of "Princess Sonata," the four-piece suite from Guitar. The only bummer: the way "Dick Dogs" fades, right as Sharrock's playing hits the stratosphere. I blame NDR.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Azimuth - 1978-02-06, Bremen, Germany

Vaporwave, decades before that was a thing?

College faculty or jazz band?
Throughout the 70s, ECM released some pretty wild stuff: albums by free jazz groups like Circle, minimalist works by Steve Reich, and box sets of Keith Jarrett piano recitals. It was pretty heady stuff!

But for my money, the most fascinating thing they released was the first Azimuth record. It combined John Taylor's keyboards, Kenny Wheeler's trumpet and Norma Winstone's wordless vocalizing. To call this jazz is really taking the term to the breaking point: it doesn't swing, or sound like anything Duke Ellington might have recognized. It's not exactly ambient - it's nowhere near passive enough - but it's plenty atmospheric.

If I'm being totally honest, the music reminds a lot of what the kids call vaporwave: the hazy, atmospheric electronic music builds and valleys, working through old forms and blah blah blah. It's one of those micro-genres which pop up, then go away after a few years (see: chillwave). But the way pulsating keyboards, hazy siren-like vocals and the blasts of trumpet ramp up the tension, letting it climax and collapse... their first record is ripe for re-discovery.

Anyway, today's share is the lone live session I've come across from this incredible lineup. Recorded live in Bremen, presumably for NDR, this is largely drawn from the first record. The version of "Azimuth" predictably is compelling, with Taylor's keyboards building up as Wheeler and Winstone call and respond to each other.