Hudson County

Elliott Sharp teams up with Italian guitarist Sergio Sorrentino on Spilla’ (ANTS RECORDS AG21), a set of excellent guitar duets created using graphical scores. In the liner notes, Sharp discourses eruditely on the history of graphic scores in modern music, modestly reminding us of his own involvement with this way of working which he started doing as early as 1972. He talks us through his personal evolution, starting out with maps and photographs overlaid onto music notation paper, up to his more recent practice which involves heavily reworked digital images. We were aware of him using this exact same method on the Oneirika record, played by the Zeitrkratzer Ensemble, but that was in 2017 and in fact he’s been busily manipulating them TIFFs in Photoshop since 2007, on Sezie Seeth Seas Seen, and then again in 2011 on Liquidity.

At least two of these “greatest hits” from his catalogue surface on today’s record, including one from the 1974 Hudson River series, and Liquidity. These are all exciting and fascinating pieces. A non-musician like me would be baffled by having to play a graphical score, but these two players make the process sound totally natural and uninhibited, the musical notes flowing abundantly. Abundant is indeed the word; such fluid runs with multiple clusters of notes bursting forth like some form of super-jazz, such strange chord shapes, such ingenious effects for sound production – harmonics, hammering-on, and sliding. I seem to recall owning one of Sharp’s 1987 records on SST, from a time when I suppose he was at the height of his success with the New York downtown set of post new-wavers and polymath free jazz types, but never enjoyed it much as I found it too exhausting. Perhaps the time is ripe for me to revisit Sharp’s oeuvre, as I’m finding this Spilla’ a real winner. In another ideal universe, this would have been the template for The Magic Band’s guitar tutelage.

As to Sergio Sorrentino, he’s an important player and composer in Italian avant-garde circles, but we’ve only heard him before in cut-up form on the Vignettes record assembled by Machinefabriek in 2013. In fact Sorrentino has many solo releases under his name, of which one interesting one looks to be Dream: American Music for Electric Guitar made for the Mode label, on which he “does” Morton Feldman, Alvin Curran, Christian Wolff, John Cage and others. Very high recommendation for this release, on the Ants label, from 16th October 2019.

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