Sonny Sharrock - Black Woman
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
Sonny Sharrock was born in New York in 1940. He started playing in doo wop groups before even listening to jazz but an encounter with Ornette Coleman’s music (“Lonely Woman was the first thing that struck me”) changed his musical interests. Further hours spent in the company of records from the likes of Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane eventually led him to participate in studio sessions with artists such as Pharoah Sanders and Marzette Watts.
Which leads us to his first album as leader: and what a wonderful team that is assembled here! His wife Linda (vocals), drummer Milford Graves, David Burrell on piano and Norris Jones on bass. The title track starts off with Linda’s vocalising and Sharrock going through a set of meaty note runs on his guitar with backing from Gary Sharrock on bells and Milford on percussion. ‘Peanut’ begins with start-stop interplay, Sonny’s guitar work is more spidery and one of the many highlights is the way that he connects with Milford’s Shiva like drum patterns. Once Linda comes back, her chanting truly scars. The final section is announced by Dave Burrell’s zig zagging piano chords. All take their solo but all go back to contribute restlessly to the group once that solo ends. The whole thing is wonderfully executed.
His approach to the guitar, like Hendrix, has something of the blues, especially in the way that its directness is applied, in the way that one electrified note was made to count, but that’s where the similarities end. Sharrock explores a different sound world, not only because he improvises in a jazz rather than in a rock context. Hendrix, as ‘Electric Ladyland’ shows, also was more for exploring what the studio and songwriting had to offer. Sharrock had different ideas, as on the track ‘Blind Willy’ (how’s that for a blues reference?), where he is happy enough to extract simple, crystal clear tones from his acoustic guitar, before introducing more compressed notes (?!) notes into the solo.
Listening to the whole record, the impression gained is of a guitarist who allows others to have their say, who thinks nothing of NOT playing a note for a couple of minutes, this isn’t just all out, backs against the wall, ‘fire’ music (a clumsy term that lumps a lot of this music together, a rather lame attempt to get Sonic Youth fans to buy these records). Listening, and just listening, is a skill that is required too, and that is what is being shown here (many guitarists, who ‘jam’ non-stop, for 20 minutes should take note).
Linda’s vocalising throughout this album is more varied than in ‘Monckie-Pockie-boo’, a session recorded in BYG’s studio with a couple of french musicians for backing (Sharrock also plays the slide whistle on that record). Her vocals are stretched more here, and this is demonstrated to stunning effect in the closing track (where the trumpet is the only horn making its one and only appearance on the record). She doesn’t just screech, but she hollers, shouts, she sings (!) more, the effect of her improvising with Milford and Sharrock really pushes her to where few vocalists have been. They are all fully wired into each other and so is the listener.
By: Julio Desouza
Published on: 2003-09-01