Dialectrical was recorded a month before Elliott Sharp’s 65th birthday and pays homage to no fewer than four of his recently deceased musical heroes. But if you think Sharp is heading toward his dotage, or feels circumscribed by mortality, the prickly immediacy of this music—with 73-year-old drummer Barry Altschul as its fearless co-pilot—will set you straight.
Aggregat is the umpteenth ensemble Sharp has shepherded since becoming a staple of the New York City experimental music scene in the late 1970s. The group began in 2012 as a trio playing some of the most conventional jazz in Sharp’s voluminous discography, but Dialectrical, as with the second Aggregat disc from 2013, features a knotty quintet with Sharp (most renowned as a guitarist) as the lone reed alongside two brass and a piano-less rhythm section. Much of the overtly composed stuff is unison prancing, a baseline from which to stagger and drag the rhythms or engage in what Sharp calls “free-floating crosstalk.”
Altschul, replacing Ches Smith from the first two Aggregat discs, is a rhythmic polestar, continuing his late-career renaissance. Sharp frequently turns him loose beneath sustained horn voicings from trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, trombonist Terry L. Greene II and Sharp himself on clarinets and saxophones. Altschul retains an uncanny knack for forming combinations that are fiery and pretty at the same time, and that special lubrication is especially evident on “We Control the Horizontal,” the record’s best workout. “Bbb,” a tribute to Pierre Boulez, Paul Bley and David Bowie, sounds inevitably scattered, finishing strong with whistles and extended notes like a sonic taffy pull. “Oh See (For Ornette Coleman)” features some of Coleman’s squiggly panache but is most notable for the lengthy solo space Sharp grabs for himself on tenor, a rare departure from the spatial splatting and ricochet reactions that inform most of the interplay. Sharp mentions in the liner notes that the quintet, filled out by mainstay Aggregat bassist Brad Jones, recorded in a circle, an inward empathy that comes through even in the most bumptious and intrepid passages.