Sonny Sharrock’s solo album Guitar is a jazz album that might fairly be called sui generis. Sure, there are other solo guitar albums out there. But Guitar uniquely tried to push across atonal free jazz noise (high theory) and lovely melodic composition (low entertainment) simultaneously using contemporary recording techniques. While that risked reaching neither sort of audience, the album in many ways succeeds in breaking down intellectual barriers that usually segregate the musical genres Sonny throws together. Sharrock had been doing these sorts of things for a long time, though here he is routinely exploring disparate concepts within a given song, rather than merely in the juxtaposition between different songs (though there is some of that too). “Like Voices of Sleeping Birds” perhaps best exemplifies the collision of sweetly strummed melody and caustic runs of biting metallic noise. Those two parts of the song are opposite extremes, brought together to imply a third path that is not wholly determined by either extreme but that also is not a unified synthesis — both parts remain intact. The music throughout the album is performed “solo”, but with the aid of studio overdubbing Sharrock lays down a sort of harmonic bed of echoing, reverb-laden sounds, which might have significant melodic content or might be more like atonal washes and pulses of sound, then he recorded solos over that foundation. So he really accompanies himself. It all sounds like it was recorded in the mid-1980s, because it was recorded then. The album has a tinny, sterile, compressed sound. But rarely did music of the day glide past such heavy-handed production so readily. There is a glimmer to Sharrock’s guitar playing that can’t be denied. He sounds like he’s making music that matters, to him if no one else. Whether the version of his old composition “Blind Willie,” with celebratory and rousing riffs, or “Devils Doll Baby,” with abrasive and angular playing, or “Broken Toys” and “They Enter the Dream,” with pleasant and sentimental melodies, or “Kula-Mae,” with menacing rock phrasing, Sharrock always offers a twist on familiar forms. Back in this time period, there were a lot of “fantasy” genre movies, and in a way Guitar is like a little musical fantasy epic brimming with hopes and dreams, and desires and laments. In any event, listeners who like this may find themselves utterly captivated by it. One of Sharrock’s best.
There was no hesitation in Sonny (& Linda) Sharrock’s debut album Black Woman. It is an album so wonderfully a part of the late 1960s. In that post-’68 time period, this feeling was about that there was no need for hesitation. Call it naive, call it short-sighted. What certainly did happen then was something that in the next 40 years never had such momentum. Truth be told, Sharrock only got better as a guitarist from here on out. But the psychedelic, free-spirited guitar and awesome (mostly) wordless shrieks from Linda really go where few if any had gone before in jazz. Here was music that recalled folk, blues, gospel and other bits and pieces of the Afro-American vernacular without submitting to any genre constraints. And how is this for a song title: “Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black”!? “Blind Willie”, a tribute to Blind Willie Johnson, would show up again in a new form on Sharrock’s Guitar album. The music here bears some resemblances to that of Don Cherry (Sonny played with him around this time) minus the non-Western influences. This is an album — especially side two — that should put a smile on your face. And that is its biggest triumph.