Elliott Sharp – Octal: Book One (CFG 002)
Intentional or not, the title of Elliott Sharp’s latest Clean Feed entry shares striking similarity to that of a Mick Barr disc released last year on Tzadik. The common ground turns out more than just titular as the two guitarists, though quite different in mien, also share highly stylized, almost mathematical approaches to composition. In Sharp’s case, the name nods to the specific nature of his axe. He’s rarely contented himself with playing pedestrian sets of frets. This time out the custom-designed musical vehicle is a Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass. Sharp describes a voluminous set of gear particulars in his notes and while most improvisers reveal too little about their preparations and intent, he nearly ends up revealing too much. The disc’s eight tracks move well beyond the shop talk and reveal their secrets solely through sound.
Sharp’s musical personality has long been resistant to reduction. His interests are wide-ranging, but like peers Henry Kaiser and Marc Ribot he also harbors a healthy preoccupation with the blues. That elemental reservoir offers ample inspiration here as well. “Through the Wormhole” references Fahey with its fast picking and knotted loping lines that falter a little through relentless repetition. “Symmetree” brings the drones, Sharp’s strings abuzz with a translucent coating of amplification and sustain. A sharply arpeggiated motif at the piece’s center curiously reminds me of Angus Young’s immortal preamble to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. The folksy “Modulant” is even more arpeggio-infested as his fingers race across strings to create a tangle of divergently pitched tones orbited by slowly decaying harmonics. On “Intrinsic Spin” the patterns are so brittle and tightly wound that it sounds as if he’s playing a banjo.
The e-bow, one of Sharp’s signature tools, makes an appearance on “Strange Attractor” turning his hollow body instrument into a resonating chamber of overlapping drones. Again, the blues feeling is heavy amidst the ferrous fret buzz. He makes brilliant use of the bass strings on “Antitop and Charm”, generating a repeating helix of slapped and picked structures that reminds me of Cooper-Moore on diddley-bow. The piece chugs along a bit too long, but it’s still an impressive display of digital dexterity and rhythmic directness. “Quaternion” unsheathes the e-bow again in a bifurcated slide drone that sounds like a 21st century answer to Eddie “One String” Jones. Sharp may share certain superficial similarities to Barr, but there’s no danger of plagiarism here.