Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Playboy Music

Sonny Sharrock, a sonic adventurer at home in chaos who was once New Thing jazz's answer to Jimi Hendrix, faded away after messing up several solo albums, only to resurface in 1980 at the behest of producer-bassist Bill Laswell. And since 1986, he has cut five remarkable LPs for Laswell's Enemy label. The three done with Laswell's free-improvisation quartet Last Exit are for New Thing loyalists only But both the new solo Guitar and the Sonny Sharrock Band's Seize the Rainbow could revive anybody's faith in fusion. Sharrock is no longer young nor especially angry, and in his second coming, he has found tunes inside himself that some may call pretty--without betraying his raw tone or protean chops. Seize the Rainbow even has a good beat (the rest of the band is composed of two drummers and a bassist), but I'd go with the mystical authority of Guitar if I had to choose. I'm glad I don't.

Last Exit's drummer, Ronald Shannon Jackson, has never lost his faith in fusion, releasing more harmolodic jazz-rock since 1981 than Ornette Coleman himself. His most recent Decoding Society album, When Colors Play (Caravan of Dreams, 312 Houston Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102), is so well rehearsed you can't tell it's live. The man not only plays like a machine gun crossed with a kaleidoscope, he writes themes that take over a record; and the guitar barrage that climaxes "Good Omens" is rave-up heaven. Power Tools' Strange Meeting (Antilles New Directions) features Shannon on drums, plus the writing of bassist Melvin Gibbs and guitarist Bill Frisell, whose quiet supertaste dominates. But if you think Jackson isn't going to rock tunes called "The President's Nap" and "Howard Beach Memoirs," you should have more faith in fusion.

Playboy, July 1988


June 1988 Aug. 1988