Feed Your Ears: Sonny Sharrock

This installment of Feed Your Ears is dedicated to the late free jazz guitarist Sonny Sharrock. As usual, you might not like what you hear right away, but open your ears and see if you can learn something, or be inspired, or both.

Some may initially be horrified by Sharrock's apparent disregard for conventional technique, and this music might never be your sort of thing. Yet as you listen to these performances, ask yourself whether they'd be more exciting or intense if they were tidied up. Personally I think not: there's nothing wrong with precise playing, but that doesn't mean it's the only valid way to approach things.

Sharrock's approach to the guitar is closer to Hendrix's than any other player I'm aware of, but he takes Jimi's raw, physical style and pushes it much, much further. Some would say too far; that's for you to decide.

Let's start gently with this track from the album Ask the Ages:

What's all the fuss about? Well, let's turn the heat up a bit. Here he plays a scorching, bluesy solo over a very simple and soft accompaniment. Where most modern guitarists would play clean, crisp runs of notes Sharrock creates squalls of partially-pitched string- and fret-noise from which the occasional half-strangled note manages to emerge. He's not playing like this because he can't play, he's playing like this because this is how he likes it.

Here we see him live on stage with the legendary band Last Exit, and the intensity goes up another notch. As well as playing conventionally he attacks the strings with something abrasive, making those sqalls of noise even noisier, although you can always hear the pitch material under the surface. Then saxophonist Peter Brotzmann comes blasting in -- initially playing the tarogato -- and everything spirals into complete meltdown. These guys must have been amazing to see live:

And finally, here he is playing pure sound to accompany Keith Haring doing some live drawing:

Perhaps by now you're crying out for something polished, pristine and perfect. Perhaps. Or perhaps you're wondering whether there's a place for experimenting with harsher sounds as well as working on your traditional chops. Even if you don't have any desire to play like Sonny, maybe your ears have opened up enough to enjoy listening to him doing his thing. Or perhaps this has clarified for you the way you don't want to play. Whichever it is, I hope you got something creatively stimulating out of the experience.