Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages (1991), 5/10

I’m usually not a fan of electric guitar in jazz, with major exceptions being Miles’ Bitches Brew and now this record. It’s not a hard and fast rule, I just think guitar can be misused very easily and result in a mismatching of sound without very intentional arrangement, such as its perfectly placed utilization in the opener of Ask the Ages in “Promises Kept”, a wildly dynamic track that covers an impressive breadth of material in under ten minutes and uses every nuance of its driving sound to great effect. Maybe it is because the composer himself contributes the guitar playing, but it feels natural and fluid rather than forced or contrived. That said, tracks that rely on this development rather than use it to push them over the top do in fact feel forced, such as the proceeding “Who Does She Hope to Be?” that sounds almost like a cheesy nineties ballad at times. For someone who is very sporadic in their affinity for fusion, my interest comes and goes in waves during Ask the Ages, always hoping to a return to form of the near perfect opening track, but it unfortunately never comes. There are inspired moments, but they never coalesce to anything very significant beyond a moderately novel fusion sound with great improv chops thrown together and some pleasant use of distortion, which is expected from a jazz and creative giant such as Sharrock accompanied by another creative force like Pharoah Sanders. I put the blame on a lack of truly original songwriting that makes most of the album generally forgettable, as the band’s massive sound is on point for its entire duration, producing an impressively imposing wall of noise in moments. It’s a fun experiment with some truly moving sections like the second passage of “Many Mansions” but ultimately not one of my favorite groundbreaking jazz albums for its lack of consistency.