Last week while writing about the young and impressive Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad I referenced the brilliant and singular jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock, a man out of time whose predilection for searing noise and dissonance was almost too much for the 60s and 70s—he released his unalloyed and uncompromising masterpieces Black Woman (Vortex) and Monkey Pockie Boo (BYG) in 1969 and 1970, respectively, and then pretty much disappeared, although he did appear briefly on the Miles Davis classic A Tribute to Jack Johnson and a Herbie Mann record in 1973. But until he resurfaced in the mid-80s as a member of Last Exit (with Peter Brötzmann, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Bill Laswell) he was largely invisible in the US (he did make a terrible record co-billed with his wife Linda Sharrock called Paradise in 1975, but that's better forgotten). He went on to make a slew of records with Last Exit, Machine Gun, and under his own name, but in 1991 he released what probably ranks as his greatest achievement, and certainly the Sharrock record I've listened to the most: Ask the Ages (Axiom), a killer quartet session with saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Charnett Moffett (son of Ornette Coleman drummer Charles Moffett), that also happens to be one of the greatest jazz records of the last few decades.
The music on Ask the Ages wasn't nearly as wild as Black Woman and Monkey Pockie Boo, but what it lacked in mayhem it made up for in gut-punching focus. The melodies of the six original tunes are all indelible, with a gorgeous tunefulness complemented by ferocious solos both by the leader and Sanders (the production by Laswell ranks easily among his best efforts, in a rare negation of self). I've probably spent dozens of hours of my life discussing the virtues of this record, and I distinctly remember guitarist Jeff Parker telling me that Ask the Ages was a ubiquitous presence when the members of Tortoise were all living in the same loft in the early 90s. For today's 12 O'Clock Track I can't help but share the irresistible opening track "Promises Kept," but the entire album is a stone cold classic.