Elliott Sharp

Octal: Book Two
Clean Feed CFG 004 CD

Derek Bailey

Lot 74

Incus CD 57

By Ken Waxman

Respectively the alpha and the omega of guitar free improvisation, the late London-based Derek Bailey (1930-2005) and the very much alive New Yorker, Elliott Sharp, offer two variants on a solo program with these notable discs.

Recorded in 1974, Lot 74, demonstrate Bailey’s mastery of free music, which he had helped midwife into existence a few years earlier. The reissue is particularly notable, because on two tracks he uses an un-amplified 19-string instrument.

In contrast, on Octal, Sharp’s axe is an 8-string electro-acoustic guitar-bass. Furthermore, the seven tracks use no electronic effects except for an e-bow and some valve compression and reverb added during mix-down. That phrase pinpoints the difference between Sharp’s 2009 improvisations and Bailey’s, recorded 35 years earlier. The British guitarist’s tracks were taped at home then transferred to LP at a plant where the cutting engineer initially played the tape upside-down. With modern technology, Sharp recorded, mixed and mastered Octal in his home studio.

Although Octal’s texture is more aggressive and percussive than Lot 74’s Bailey proves that he can crunch notes, frail lines and snap strings on the two tracks featuring the 13 additional strings. Plus on “Together” he not only distorts and flanges guitar lines into fuzzy fortissimo, but also vocally howls high-pitched enough to give metal singers competition. Bailey’s instantly identifiable style is most broadly showcased on the 22-minute title track. Contrapuntally intertwining tones while simultaneously deconstructing them, his banjo-like plucks and flattened twangs resonate. Using slurred fingering and flattened licks, he separates each tone so that it vibrates inwardly.

If Bailey’s improvisations appear inner directed, then Sharp’s are mercurial and tough. Twenty years Bailey’s junior, Sharp’s playing is informed by rock as well as jazz and notated sounds. For example he mixes blues-rock thump with stately polyrhythms on “Fluctuations of the Horizon”, exposing a pedal-point continuum after the folksy exposition. With piezo pickups isolating each string, his waterfall of notes divides on “P-branes and D-branes” so that the agitato lines seems to come from two guitars at once – one high-pitched and the other basso – as percussive rebounds provide added weight. Finally two-handed tapping meets near-flamenco strumming. Alternately ramping wave-form oscillations and vibrating fortissimo pitches animate “Inverted Fields” with feedback loops giving the piece an industrial edge. Eventually metal-slider impelled string licks narrow the theme to undulating drones.

While much has changed in improvised music during the past 25 years, the discordant guitar experiments Bailey pioneered helped create the sonic climate within which Sharp operates.

Tracks: Lot 74; Together; Pain in the chest; Planks; In joke [take 2]; Improvisation 104[b]

Personnel: Derek Bailey: solo guitar and voice

Tracks: Graviton The Boson; Relevant; Fluctuations of the Horizon; Sequent; Eukaryon; P-branes and D-branes; Inverted Fields

Personnel: Elliott Sharp: Koll 8-string electro-acoustic guitar-bass

— For All About Jazz-New York August 2010