The New York City Jazz Record review by Kurt Gottschalk

Elliott Sharp Trio – Aggregat (CF 250)
Even given the broad diversity in the numerous records Elliott Sharp has released over the last 35 years, one could be forgiven for thinking they know more or less what to expect from a new issue. From skronk rock to chamber ensemble, a mathematical rigidity and a remarkable precision has generally dominated the guitarist’s work. Even in his looser moments, playing Monk or blues improvisations unaccompanied, there is an exquisite control. His work is not always the same. Far from it. But there are rules that run through it, as proven by the exception that is his new trio. Hiring a rhythm section like bassist Brad Jones and drummer Ches Smith almost guarantees a sort of intricate swing and that’s clearly what Sharp was looking for in the dozen tracks that make up Aggregat. Having worked extensively with the likes of Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Coleman and Roy Nathanson, Jones is well versed in taking a diversity of material and reading it as blues or swing, cinematic or vaudevillian. And while being the youngster of the group, Smith has had similar sensibilities called upon while working with Tim Berne and Marc Ribot or the rock band Xiu Xiu and his own Good for Cows and These Arches. Together they make, with no intended understatement, for a tight little trio. As such, Aggregat is probably Sharp’s most easily-labeled- ’jazz’ record to date, although it’s far from simply playing dress-up. His fast guitar geometries are certainly at play on some of the dozen tracks that make up the disc, although more of the tracks feature more emotive, nimble soloing. But to say Sharp can play any style he sets his mind to on the guitar is hardly a revelation. The bigger shocker here is his saxophone playing. In the past, his tenor and soprano horns have almost invariably had a harsh edge employed as a sustained, arcing squall over a predetermined complexity. But here, the saxophone is moody, even soulful, from the outset. Album opener “Nucular”(referring either to an old neologism or an even older name for a section of a fruit) has its moments of sputter and dissonance, but at the same time comes yards closer to a Stanley Turrentine side than anyone might ever have expected from Sharp. Such surprises recur throughout the record at such a pace that even when his familiar flat-fingered clusters (which is not to suggest a plodding quality but to describe his evocative technique of muting and playing harmonics) emerge, the expected has become unexpected. The summation of such factors makes this not just a satisfying record but Sharp’s happily jazziest.

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