When you’ve developed as distinctive a voice on a particular instrument as Elliott Sharp has on the guitar, it can be dangerous to turn your attention to a completely different one; you run the risk of diluting an individual sound. The ever-prolific Sharp has long displayed his talent for maintaining his identity on a variety of axes, however. On Aggregat, he picks up his guitar on only half of the dozen tracks, wielding tenor and soprano saxes on the other six.
The album hardly seems schizophrenic, however, thanks in no small part to Sharp’s deftly malleable triomates, drummer Ches Smith and bassist Brad Jones. The trademark E# skronk is clearly evident on tracks like “The Grip,” where he attacks the guitar with gnarled tangles while Jones takes off on a blustery walk and Smith affects a metallic swing. The very next track, “Allelia,” finds Sharp blowing upper-register screeches on his tenor while Smith and Jones alternate stuttering figures; the tune morphs through a number of changes, urgent echoing honks dissolving into a noir crawl.
The soprano is the most daunting prospect, a horn that in the wrong hands can turn decidedly sour. On “Mal Du Droit,” Sharp weaves firm, slippery lines over the rhythm section’s insistent recursions, and “Gegenschein” is one of the disc’s highlights, with wispy, floating lines counteracting Jones’ knotty bass and Smith’s skittering breakbeats. This is one of the adventurous Sharp’s most distinctly “jazz” efforts, even as it ends on the Southwestern psychedelia of “Satan Sandwich.”