Sharp, Halvorson, Ribot, Cline

Elliott Sharp with Mary Halvorson & Marc Ribot — Err Guitar (Intakt, 2017)

Nels Cline, Elliott SharpOpen the Door (Public Eyesore, 2012)

errguitarIt’s like a jungle of steel strings hanging like vines, and in certain segments, you can hear trademark moments Elliott Sharp‘s knotty, clustered guitar style; Mary Halvorson‘s spidery angles and abrupt, dark bursts; and Marc Ribot‘s soaring, edgy guitar heroism.

Put them together in a largely improvised set populated mostly with acoustic guitars, and you get that jungle effect. The overall mood is dark and twisted, but the titles of the songs (and of the album itself) tell you this is a jovial meeting. Sharp and Ribot have collaborated for decades, dating back to the ’80s downtown scene, and while Halvorson is younger, she’s been established as their peer in out-jazz circles.

Sadly, their schedules didn’t allow for a full-on trio recording. As Sharp explains in the liner notes, Err Guitar consists mostly of duets.

Two tracks were planned as overdubbed trios. “Blindspot” features all three playing in a spacious, sparkling mode; it’s a Sharp-Ribot duo with conscious space left for Halvorson. The other full-trio track is “Kernel Panic,” which carries a narrative flow built around Sharp’s graphical score. The track gathers like dark clouds, creating hailstorms at times when two or three of the players decide to cut loose.

 
These are dark landscapes. “Sinistre” casts an evil shadow, with dark-skies electric defining the mood for two scrabbling acoustic guitars. “Oronym” opens with a tangle of acoustic strings speaking in tongues and builds into an electric screech almost on the verge of a drone.

Two tracks not to miss: “Wobbly” is an acoustic duo with Ribot, with playful steel sparks flying everywhere. “Shredding Light,” with Halvorson, culminates in heavenly beams that do make it seem as if they’re playing the light itself.

cline-sharpSpeaking of guitar collaborations …

Open the Door is a lost album from 1999, when Sharp brought a young Nels Cline into Studio zOaR on West 30th Street for a day of acoustic improvising. The two guitarists laid down tracks direct-to-tape, only to have two record labels go belly-up before releasing the music. Public Eyesore‘s Bryan Day is the one who finally gave the music a proper release. It includes a 2007 live track, recorded by Cline and Sharp at The Stone, possibly in support of another duo album, Duo Milano (Long Song, 2006).

The album strikes me as having more concentration on melody (albeit in sour, off-kilter tones) than Err Guitar. “Isotropes” includes a slide and some downright pretty arpeggio work to create a songlike atmosphere. “Five Tastes of Sour” is like a careful study in harmonies, with each guitarist spending time exploring chords and leaving them to linger; it’s a nine-minute improvisation in no particular hurry.

The 2007 track, “Pietraviva,” is like blues clipped up and played on fast-forward, with notes and ideas rebounding all over the room. It packs a punch, and it ends with both guitars in tight percussive mode, the kind of clackety sound that’s been a Sharp trademark. These two had a lot of fun, both in 1999 and in 2007.

 

It’s John Zorn’s Metal Band

John ZornIpsissimus (Tzadik, 2010)

Ipsissimus“John Zorn’s metal band” is not news to most of you, it’s true. But most of my delving into the Tzadik catalogue hasn’t been in the metal/Mike Patton vein, so I hadn’t encountered Moonchild until now.

Where Naked City’s Torture Garden was informed by speed-blasting punk, Moonchild is more about the weighty styles of contemporary metal. Ipsissimus, the latest of that band’s five albums, does indeed get heavy, and yet, it’s got references back to prog rock and even jazz that give me some grounding in the music. (UPDATE: See comments; it turns out the latest Moonchild album is Templars – In Sacred Blood, which has lyrics and adds John Medeski to the mix.)

Which is helpful, because metal tends to combine murk and hyperstimulation in a way that gets lost on me. “Warlock” and “The Book of Los” both provide a balm of prog-rock brightness, at least in spots. And the opener, “Seven Sigils,” flickers between a 4/4 and 15/16 time signature, I think — which, combined with the knowledge that nice-guy Joey Baron is on the drums, tickles my prog center nicely.

Later on that track, Zorn’s sax solo even hits some surprising moments of soul-jazz melody before getting into, you know, Zornisms.

Throughout the album, Trevor Dunn gets to crank out the low-end electric bass lines — I’m guessing he relishes the sessions where he gets to do that — and Marc Ribot’s guitar gets all crunchy in that choppy metal vein. I don’t mean blazing speed-metal, but heavy storm-of-doom stuff with Mike Patton providing the Cookie Monster vocals.

Tracks like “Supplicant” are where Zorn and especially Patton really bring the metal in midtempo, heavy-growl mode. Unexpectedly, Ribot chooses a classic-rock guitar sound for his subsequent solo. On a “metal” album that draws from so many other resources, it fits.

Zorn and The Dreamers

John Zorn: The Dreamers (Source: Tzadik)

Here’s how busy my week was: It isn’t until a full five days later that I bother to blog about the coolness of my lone John Zorn show at Yoshi’s.

DJ Mike and I went to the Saturday show, featuring Zorn’s band The Dreamers. This is pop Zorn. Very accessible, jazzy melodies — accessible in a Bacharach sense, almost verging on corniness at points. One song had the happy, dippy air of a 1950s department store commercial.

But this is a band that burns, and the sizzling jams that come out of these songs meld bluesy guitar; loud surf guitar (both by Mark Ribot, of course); South American themes and percussions; Cyro Baptista making as many noises as possible; and Joey Baron just tearing it up on drums, smiling all the way of course. The stage was packed with instruments. Zorn, sitting, conducted everything with satisfied glee.

Jamie Saft got to play three keyboards, alternating piano, organ, and electric piano. (I’m guessing all three keyboards were Yoshi’s own.) Trevor Dunn, a welcome face from the Bay Area scene of the past, was digging down hard on electric bass. Kenny Wolleson, another former local, played vibraphone throughout, adding that sunny touch to a lot of the melodies. Baptista, as mentioned, just played all sorts of stuff — drums, noisemakers, whitles, clangy metal spirals. I picture him going through security with these fat sacks of stuff, trying to explain that it’s for his job.

The crowd ate it up. Many of these songs, though instrumental, have the right rhythm, melody, and guitar elements to fit on rock radio, IMHO; a relatively progressive station like KFOG could easily sneak this music into a playlist. (The lamented KKCY of the late ’80s would have been all over this album.) People didn’t clap for most of the solos, but the band got thick standing ovations for the set and the encore (which appeared to consist of two Masada tunes.) Amoeba Records had a table in the lobby to sell Zorn’s Tzadik wares, and copies of The Dreamers got snatched up like candy-coated popcorn.

The Dreamers is quite “nice,” but there’s an attitude to it. Don’t picture black-and-white suburban smiles; think instead of those little cartoon guys on the album cover, and the connection to Japanese pop culture. It’s Zorn’s nod to jazz and pop, viewed not from a retro lens, but with a hipster’s eye. (You can get the cartoon guys on a T-shirt at Tzadik, by the way. Pricey, but potentially irresistable. By the way, I haven’t seen the inside of the CD package; be reminded that Zorn sometimes employs artwork that you wouldn’t take home to mom.)