(Empty Cellar Records EMP011. LP review by Andrew Cartmel)
Do you know what an audiophile vinyl lover listens for? Silence. When you switch on the turntable and you first lower the needle onto the record, that’s what you want to hear. That’s what you’re praying for. Because a noisy run-in groove suggests, if it’s an old record, that it’s been badly looked after (read ‘knackered’). And if it’s a brand new record, it tells you that it’s a poor pressing and it’s been badly manufactured.
Well, when lowering the needle onto the new album by the Charles Sharp 6 what you first hear is beautiful, cavernous, velvety silence. It’s instantly clear that this is a wonderful pressing made by someone who cares about vinyl. And then the music starts. It’s terrific, tough and fascinating — hypnotic.
At the words ‘free’ or ‘modern’ many a fan of Dixieland, Swing or even Bebop is likely to reach for their revolver, or at the very least the off-switch on their amplifier. It’s true that the avant-garde can often be difficult terrain, but anyone with open ears knows what treasures are on offer. And who would be without Sun Ra?
Charles Sharp would readily acknowledge the influence of Ra but he’s clearly very much his own man. A multi instrumentalist who plays alto, tenor and baritone sax as well as diverse clarinets, Sharp has recorded with jazz greats including Kenny Burrell and Tito Puente.
His first album is entitled Exits and features an intriguing line up including two upright bass players, 'cello, drums and French horn. Its minimalist cover art, cryptically text-free record labels and phenomenological song titles might seem to suggest we’re in for a dauntingly austere high-art experience. In fact, it’s anything but.
The music is accessible and visceral with a recurrent warm buoyancy which is both enjoyable and engaging. But there is also a probing, mysterious quality to it which gives real emotional (and intellectual) depth.
It’s free jazz but not so as to scare the horses.
It grooves, with its roots in a tradition which run from Sidney Bechet to Steve Lacey. At the beginning of the album the raucous, raw swagger of the band suggests we might be in for a garage barrage or a rhythm and blues blast. But soon we’re exploring mysterious, moody and exotic terrain. At other times its joyous and carousing. The music is insinuating, sinewy and intelligent. When you see there’s a vuvuzela on an album you don’t necessarily suspect you’re in for a treat, but that’s definitely the case here.
If you enjoy the more modern edges of jazz you should definitely check out Charles Sharp. Anybody who can appreciate Ornette Coleman is likely to find something to enjoy here. And if you’re a devotee of free jazz who also loves high quality vinyl, then you should seek this out immediately. It is a notable recording. Recording engineers are often the unsung heroes of jazz and anyone whose pulse quickens at the thought of finding an album made by Rudy Van Gelder at Hackensack or Roy DuNann in Melrose Place should take note of Terry Carter and his Coyote Pass Studios in Monterey Park, California. Credit is also due to Paul Oldham who did the mastering.
The people at Empty Cellar records are to be congratulated for taking such excellent music and making it available on a splendid piece of vinyl.
It’s also available on CD or digital download; if you must.
Charles Sharp – Alto, Tenor, and Baritone Sax, Bb Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Vuvuzuela
Michael Intriere – Cello
Jeff Schwartz – Bass (right side)
Anthony Shadduck – Bass (left side)
Rich West – percussion, French horn, accordion
Andrew Lessman – drums