By Troy Collins
The 2013 Clean Feed release of Elliott Sharp’s Quintet marked the first time the veteran multi-instrumentalist issued an album that found him performing exclusively on saxophones and clarinet. The session featured a somewhat traditional jazz combo; trumpeter Nate Wooley and trombonist Terry L. Green joined the leader as part of a three-horn frontline, supported by bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith. Despite the relatively conventional instrumentation, the results were expectedly avant-garde (unsurprising, considering Sharp’s oeuvre), alternating between kinetic expressionism and aleatoric impressionism.
Diaelectrical, Sharp’s third offering with his Aggregat ensemble, is aesthetically similar to the former release, albeit with a notable change in personnel. With Wooley and Smith unavailable for this date, Sharp recruited trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum and legendary drummer Barry Altschul to take their place. The ensuing music’s angular themes and asymmetrical rhythms – driven by Altschul’s “from ragtime to no time” approach – regale with a swinging vitality rarely heard in Sharp’s prior work, resulting in the most accessible recording of his career thus far.
Sharp finds stylistic concordance in Bynum and Green’s vanguard company, parlaying brassy vocalizations with piercing altissimo refrains, multiphonic split-tones, wobbly pitch bends, and other extended techniques. Although possessing a singular style, Sharp’s bristling cadences and tonal manipulations on multiple horns (soprano and tenor saxophones, Bb and bass clarinets) are part of a longstanding lineage, ranging from the muscular linearity of Sonny Rollins to the un-tempered phrasing of Steve Lacy.
For all of Sharp and company’s colorful contributions, it’s Altschul’s gracefully abstract swing that defines the proceedings. Sharp’s intervallic writing for Aggregat favors manic, carnival-esque free bop, with sporadic interludes allotted for moody introspection, but Altschul’s unfettered zeal negotiating the no-man’s-land between inside and outside forms lends a unifying dimension to an otherwise varied set. Dialectrical is a remarkable accomplishment – not just for Sharp, but for Altschul as well.