Sonny Sharrock Band, Seize the Rainbow

Greg Tate

By Greg Tate

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

Like Funkadelic's Maggot Brain, this album justifies its purchase on the basis of not just one song but one guitar solo — in this instance, the splenetic and frenetic barrage of heaving squall Sonny Sharrock unleashes on the opener "Dick Dogs." There, he definitively demonstrates why he remains the only free jazz guitarist worthy of the name — meaning the only one who found a way to match the caterwaul and controlled-demolition techniques of the movement's over-blowing, reed chomping saxophonists with his thumb, a Les Paul and an unaffected Marshall stack.

Free jazz’s greatest guitarist stretches out.

Someone once said Hendrix solos started where other guys ended. Sharrock's solos start where Hendrix's guitars sounded like they were going after being smashed and burned at Monterey. The difference is that Sharrock achieves the scorched-ear feeling of pornographic feedback with his hands and a bottleneck slide rather than his amplifier. In guitar's version of The Fast and the Furious, Sharrock could hold his own with any demon shredder. His one leg up on them was to do it without resorting to blues clichés. The solo on "Dick Dogs" manages this feat inside a song form that recalls early, Mahavishnu-style fusion — exotic scalar patterns turned into nasty, brutish and short melodic riffs that exist merely to provide dramatic structure and closure for the eviscerating autopsy that savagely occurs in the tune's jungle-rumbling middle section.

Seize the Rainbow also finds Sharrock with his best band, which featured the world's greatest electric bassist, Melvin Gibbs, and those free-bopping funky drummers Pheeroan akLaff and Abe Speller. Oceanic and whimsical players all, who, per their leader, possessed enough punk in their attitude to make extreme technical feats evoke death chasing murder, and the rhythmic finesse to make Sharrock's pointed and chunky calypso airs twirl and levitate about like battlefield fandangos.