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Raised Eyebrows: Sonny Sharrock’s Ask The Ages (Randy)

January 20, 2015

Music

This year I’ve decided to take the route of nostalgia here at SOTO. Though the term was recently discussed by Jandek on his Hardly Sound episode (watch the whole shabang here) as some kind of neurological disorder that needs to be rectified, there are some surprising records and stories that go along with them that I can no longer overlook. I’ll be discussing 12 records from various points of my listening life, the personal stories that go along with them and how they struck me then and now. So here goes …

When pondering Sonny Sharrock’s 1991 masterpiece Ask The Ages, there’s a few things I associate with my first interaction with it, including possible minor injury.

I used to be in a band (weren’t we all) and was heading to a gig in San Antonio. I recall traveling in the passenger seat of a 1970 Dodge Van when the driver, a jazz head/behemoth, pulled out a CD he had just got and was stoked about. The record he held in his hand was of course, Ask The Ages by big boy Sonny Sharrock.

The record began and before the first passage of Promises Kept was finished, everyone in that damaged bucket of a car was enamored with the leaden sounds flying out the speakers. Then Pharoah Sanders began his skronk and by that point I’m not sure if anyone was aware of anyone else’s existence.

Who Does She Hope To Be? followed with some meditations that were well needed after the thrash of the lead off track. Sharrock’s runs (on this track especially) spoke directly to the core of what we were on our way to do. Playing music is a game of chase. Much like most aspects of life, there are moments that give you enough essence of existence to get through the rest of the performance/day/task and you continually look for that. On Who Does She Hope To Be?, Sharrock bottles that longing and gives it audibility.

I recall the driver getting way into the intro of Little Rock and drumming on the dashboard, doing a sort of Neal Cassady bit when all of the sudden, in the midst of Sonny and Pharoah dueling it out mid song,  we took a turn off the highway and my door swung wide open! Pavement was rushing under me and the driver had me by the shirt with me hanging half ass out the car. “Oh yeah, It does that sometimes.” smiled the driver and off we went to eat tacos at a car wash before the gig.

Not much of a story, I know, but the scenario unfailingly plays out every time I listen to this record. It continues to be one of my all time favorite jazz recordings and puts Sharrock in line with the greats. One listen to album closer Once Upon A Time and you get a sense of all the avenues music still has left to explore and conquer. Sonny said it best, “I’m just a horn player with a really fucked up axe.” To my ears ‘taint nothing fucked about it.

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