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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Peter Brötzmann/Sonny Sharrock - Whathefuckdoyouwant (Trost, 2014) ****

The first thing you realize is this guitar sound. It’s metallic, reverberating, icy, crisp. And there is this unusual use of a bottleneck slide guitar, the blistering speed, extremely high pitched notes, treble prone, right at the threshold of pain. We know it from Last Exit. No one sounds like Sonny Sharrock.

Apart from that seminal free jazz/rock formation, Peter Brötzmann (saxophones) and Sharrock(guitars) did some small duo tours in Europe in the late 1980s and although some of these performances were recorded then, only the “Fragments” LP was released in 2003 by Okka. Now the Austrian Trost label has made another bunch available and although the eleven tracks look like loose outtakes it is a great collection.

A surprising trademark of this album is the contrast between quiet, meditative, almost mellow passages which are confronted with brutal, distorted and wild parts like in Track 10, it’s an emotional back and forth that structures the music but also affords the listener’s permanent concentration. Another very unusual and exciting characteristic – especially of the first four tracks – is the fact that Brötzmann and Sharrock play harsh, minimalistic – almost hard-rock- like – repetitive breaks (sometimes in unison) which float either into real tunes (for Brötzmann standards) or angry outbreaks. 

Except the exquisite opening pieces, highlights of the album are Track 5, where Sharrock quotes Jimi Hendrix’s “Instrumental Solo” of the Woodstock performance (he tears it apart, actually) and Track 6, opening with a fragmented and fierce solo by Sharrock, who uses echo and feedback here and who is joined by Brötzman on bass saxophone using growling notes and repetitive lines which are then counteracted by Sharrock’s pattering notes. All in all, the track lives from the enormous differences of the instruments’ sounds which seem to dance around each other. Last but not least Track 8 presents Sharrock building a huge guitar chord wave into which Brötzmann dives head on mingling with these sounds so that it is hard to tell sometimes which instrument we hear.

What is so great about this album is the fact that we can witness how well both musicians seem to understand each other, how excellent their different approaches matched. As almost always with Brötzmann, “Whatthefuckdoyouwant” is a lesson in listening, a recording about communication, a real duo performance.

In his conversations with Gerard Roux Brötzmann said that he really liked Sharrock as a person and a musician and that he wanted to go on with the duo but then he “got a phone call saying that he just passed away” (in 1994).

“Whatthefuckdoyouwant” can be bought from

Listen to the album here: 

P.S.: The story behind the title is told by Brötzmann in the liner notes: “In the afternoon we met with our management Mr. X. Sonny had to discuss some business concerning a new band he wanted to set up and Mr. X had promised a lot of work for that. (…) The conversation got louder and louder; some verbal fight was on the way. Then, with a very fast move, Sonny took a razor blade out of the breast pocket of his sports jacket, unfolded it – all in one move – and shouted, “whatthefuckdoyouwant?, I slice you up, have done that before in Vietnam!” I never had seen before (and haven’t after) a face turning so grey and green, Mr. X — not used to exercise — turned around and started to run up the hill, the Obergrünewalderberg, quite a steeple chase, and never was seen again. The roadie and I had moved closer but before we could do anything the whole spook was over. We drove to the gig, finished the tour and Sonny was the gentle man he always had been.”


lop lop said...

I agree wholeheartedly, Martin - Sonny Sharrock was a one of a kind guitarist and a pioneer, I think that in some respects, he anticipated the guitar "skronk" of punk musicians like Greg Ginn or Thurston Moore. I will have to check this one out!


Martin Schray said...

SST was my favorite label in the 1980s, Julian. Recently I listened to some old Black Flag stuff because I read "American Hardcore". Greg Ginn might have been a difficult person but as a musician he was a genius. He, Moore, Silvia Juncosa and Henry Kaiser were real avant-garde then. And Sharrock was definitely one of their heroes.