BRITISH leftfield saxophonist and composer Samuel Sharp, who has previously partially hidden his light under the nom-de-musique Lossy, and whose collaborative curriculum vitae includes live work with artists as diverse as Hackney Colliery Band, Brooklyn indie rock outfit Augustines, and the poet Hollie McNish.
This week he’s releasing an album of solo saxophone excursions and investigations, entitled Patterns Various. These latest works reflect a fresh shift towards Sharp’s output as a live performer and composer, creating innovative soundscapes that blur the lines between jazz, electronic and experimental.
The concept comes from various naturally occurring patterns Samuel has observed in the the everyday environment: maypole dancers, murmurations of starlings, the bright iterations of fireworks; down to the simpler joys of catching swirling leaves and pushing swings with his kids
Each of the nine compositions has some degree of improvisation: some were completely composed on the fly, while others have more structural forethought.
He eschewed both the digital and some of the more outré accoutrements of his sonic process; out with the iPAD, laptops, wind controllers and other such chattels; in came real-time effects in the shape of a pedalboard of delay, reverb and harmonisers. There were to be no backing tracks, loopers or triggered samples. It was to be in the moment, much like the whirling leaves and the swirling starlings. But it was still to be exploratory and sonically beguiling. Emre Ramazanoglu used a cutting-edge, 8D approach for the final mixdown, resulting in a wow-immersive listening experience.
We’re promised innovative sounds that sit out where jazz, modern composition, electronica and experimental music meet. Is that what we get? Oh, hell yes.
“Dawn Rises” seems a sensible place to begin our journey. It’s a bright reveille of Samuel’s saxophone in joyously dubby conversation, an echoing answer of the unfurling motifs adding contrapuntal depth and complexity. It also, more importantly, happens to be extremely pretty.
“Fireworks From The Tower” was the lead single ooh, four months ago now: we’ve embedded this one below for you. We find Samuel blowing clear and true with an in-the-pocket melody brought into a different realm with judicious delay, allowing the melodies to expand and repeat and cross-fertilise. It’s a lovely piece, jazz with a Rudy Van Gelder clarity of tone and brightness arcing into a more experimental dub world.
It captures in sound the night Samuel played a gig at the restaurant atop London’s BT Tower one November the fifth. He recalls: “We had full 360-degree views of all of the fireworks displays right across London; which rather than the start-stop oohs and aahs you normally get, instead provided a constant stream of beautiful lights across the capital.” He captures the gradual build of these nocturnal explosive patterns in different cascades of melody, rising and falling, dying away, the incandescent bursts caught in sound.
“Pushing Swings” is a tune written by Samuel for a day in the park with his children, giddy with the joy of that swooping weightlessness. (I miss that.) It’s slower discourse, with more glide, more towards the ambient; and what a lovely thing to give your kids though, such a song. You can, I think, hear that they’re wrapped up warm and that the light on that particular day was of that particular heavy English grey-silver. Maybe that’s just me. But if music doesn’t take you on very particular journeys, then what should it do?
“The Maypole” cleverly captures that bright, billowing skip of ribbons with a very English renaissance melodic lilt, courtly, music for a pageant, all of course also gloriously a piece of modern Britain with its jazz-dub cadences and styling.
Of “Longdown Hill”, named for a road in Buckinghamshire that Samuel frequented while studying A-level music, Samuel says: “This is my favourite all-time road to drive on: a stunning wooded hill that inspires all year round.
“I started with the school term in autumn, leaves exploding as I raced along, followed by the harshness of winter, the promise of spring and the tension/release of summer with exams and holidays all mixed in together”. It’s a calendrical, autobiographical essay in sound, exploring the majesty of an open road across the high broadleaf ridge of the Chilterns is written in sound. Those of a psychogeographical bent, myself included, will make a little mental note to traverse that road with this blasting.
On ‘Catching Leaves”, we find Samuel in his role as father in Coram’s Fields, right in the heart of London – a playground complex that has swings, a big park, a cafe, indoor play areas and even farm animals. With his family he headed there one autumn day to find he first leaf-fall being caught in the bluster. It’s about them running around trying to catch them, falling over, laughing and celebrating each time they caught one. You can hear the flurries of leaves and the early autumn wind in the harmonies of the opening theme, and the subsequent darting about as his sax flurries and crests through the melody; the layering conversation of the instrument with itself is stirring and beautiful. There’s a couple of very unusual and experimental tonal moments; even one near the beginning when he seems just for a bar or two to inhabit the same drone-tone layering as 4AD’s Bing & Ruth.
“This was surprisingly tricky, actually!,” Samuel says. “The piece is pretty much completely improvised as I imagine this scene while playing through a combination of harmoniser and delay effects.” Sharp feeds the electronics and then in turn responds to their output on the fly, resulting in a lively, lovely cascade.
“Winter’s Approach” is a serenade for the chill in the air, the icier blue of the skies, the way the leisurely promenade is swapped for a beswathed scurry; it really made miss the abstract romance of people-watching in London just at the onset of a winter’s dusk, with its gorgeous lamenting and potent build of effects-rack resonance. The perfect tune to have on the cans for a brisk two or three miles zigzagging across town a way you’ve never walked before, to arrive at a boozer rendezvous for something strictly medicinal at lighting-up.
“Starling Swarm” has a bluesy swing; an invisible but implicit hip-sway in its evocation of that sudden clouding, the merger, the cleaving apart and the ducks and swerves. We end in “Creatures In The Mist”, which has amazing trills, graver, keener passages, a touch of the Pharoah Sanders circa Thembi. For me, it could be the clincher on the album, for its interchange of lighter than-air staccato dub freedom and the responding, more trad passage.
Patterns Various sits in a emerging tradition of very beautiful single-instrument essays; maybe musical historians will themselves look back and spot the wider pattern of this. In piano, we have Henrik Lindstrom, Neil Cowley, Nils Frahm, et al; in harp, Mary Lattimore; in the field of the cello, Oliver Coates. And they’re all pushing out and meshing and finding new ways to say new things.
I also think Samuel’s latest is a very personal journey, and a very English one, which will take its place in a tradition of impressionistic responses and captures its moments so well that people will be sure to revisit it for decades to come. The little moments of the quotidian made sound with depth and talent. Of a time, but in a wider sense, timeless.
Samuel Sharp’s Patterns Various will be released digitally by Boot Cycle Audio on February 19th; you can pre-order your copy from Samuel’s Bandcamp page, here.