Whether he plays jazz, rock or free improvisation, Elliott Sharp’s guitar can rip flesh, thanks to his astounding fretwork skills and an inventive musical vocabulary. What makes Terraplane, his blues band, so strong a group is the fact that Sharp doesn’t trade his Downtown New York perspective for a bag of blues licks to fit the mood. You get the same composer-performer on Secret Life that unsettled the ears with the noisy rock band Carbon. That approach keeps the band from sounding anything close to typical.
Terraplane has a good deal of low-end punch, thanks to the trombone of Curtis Fowlkes (Jazz Passengers) and baritone saxophonist Alex Harding. They both solo, but Sharp gets most of the spotlight, tearing it up on console steel guitar and National Tricone, as well as six-string and tenor saxophone. Guitarist Hubert Sumlin, who began his career playing with Howlin’ Wolf, guests on two tracks.
A theme of post-9/11 anxiety permeates the album and Eric Mingus and Black Rock Coalition’s Tracie Morris add furious vocals to several tracks. Mingus possesses the spirit of father Charles and the gravel of Dr. John, coming up short only when the lyrics are reduced to repeated slogans (“USA Out of NYC!”). But as a whole, this is the real blues of the 21st century.