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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Elliot Sharp Aggregat - Quintet (Clean Feed, 2013) ****½

By Paul Acquaro
On guitarist Elliot Sharp's new recording you'll hear plenty of horns and a fiery rhythm section, but you will not hear a guitar. 

Fans of the first Aggregat album, by the Elliot Sharp Trio, know that Sharp switched to saxophone for a good portion of the recording. Always an experimental guitarist, Aggregat showed a more 'conventional' side of Sharp's compositions of angular heads and ensemble playing. On the quintet album, Sharp's convoluted tunes unwind in similarly wonderful ways, perhaps even a bit knottier than the trio. 

'Magnatar' kicks off he album with an elliptical figure from trumpeter Nate Wooley. Sharp's sax offers a counter melody before all three horns break into an improvisation that contains the right ingredients: conflict, agreement, stops and starts. Bassist Brad Jones and dummer Ches Smith keep the piece flowing with a tight groove until a stuttering passage ends the tune. 'Katabatics' features trombonist Terry Green on a growling and churning solo, complimented by Sharp's spiky runs.  Another highlight is 'Blues for Butch' where a composed head quickly passes into a dense group impovization. The closing tune, 'Cherenkov Light' is a study of extended techniques on the horns, where breath and space are on equal footing with the instruments actual tones and notes. 

The group interplay throughout is exemplary and the potentially crowded musical space of a quintet is given plenty of space to stretch out. Quintet is a tough and rewarding recording that can stand many many listens, it doesn't pull punches and has many passages that are as challenging as ones that are easily digestible, which in turns makes for a fantastic album.

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