You might have missed saxophonist Jason Sharp’s elemental and elevating album ‘The Turning Centre Of The Still World’ released as it was at the backend of the pandemic in August last year. His third release for Montreal’s mighty Constellation label marked an emboldened exploration of his craft, melding his sax playing with electronics using his own bio-feedback to shape and form the music. The resulting compositions were both visceral and elusive, atmospheric soundscapes that also focused on melodic impact.
Soon there will be a chance for UK audiences to experience the breadth and depth of Jason Sharp’s work live as he sets off on a string of dates around the country (see the listing below) but before he took to the road BSM managed to grab him for a ZOOM chat. Talking from his Montreal studio Jason took us through his unique approach to live performance, recording in lockdown and his baby daughter’s impeccable musical taste.
Hi Jason thanks for taking time out of your preparations to talk to us. It’s your first solo tour of the UK- any preconceptions or things you are looking forward to in particular?
Well I haven’t been to the UK really you know – I was in Bristol once, in and out, but generally the geography is all new to me so I’m excited to see some sights. I am looking forward to playing everywhere but especially to visiting and playing at Café Oto in London as I’ve never been there … but I am just excited to exercise this music because you know during the pandemic performances have been few and far between, so it’s nice to do a string of these dates in the UK and have the music evolve on the stage a little bit.
I know that the music at the shows is produced by an interaction between many things but could you talk us through how it all comes together?
I mean I am a saxophonist and so the most identifiable sound will be the bass saxophone which is my primary instrument and I will be bringing that with me and then basically all the electronic elements are stemming from my heart rates or breathing rates that I have this interface for that kind of creates triggers into my systems. It’s a blue tooth heart monitor that I made this app for, it’s wireless and acts as the master clock for my electronic synth system so when you hear any electronic percussion, percussive elements or rhythmic elements, its all being shaped to an incoming heart-rate. Then there are other synth voices that I play with my feet …I basically orchestrate everything that I am playing with my feet on pedals so that when I am playing my saxophone I can bring in and out voices and they are all kind of shifting towards physicality elements. There’s also a little microphone in front of me which captures the breathing – sometimes when I am not playing saxophone I’ll be doing different breathing practices into this microphone and that is going through some electronics and into little speakers left and right which creates kind of tuned feedback and white noise – a lot of the textural aspects of the music that you hear.
And then the other things I will be coming with is a beautiful Lyricon, a woodwind synth from the early seventies … it’s not on the record but it allows me to play some of the material that is on the record in a live format .
Wow there’s a lot of elements and some of that is unpredictable like heart rate – how do you manage to hold things together or is it mainly improvisational?
It’s a little bit of both – in order to work with these shifting elements then you have to accept that they are shifting and embrace the quality that that provides. The music itself is not required to have a particular tempo – the tempo pulsates underneath while harmonic and melodic is written over top and then areas where you want to build tension like an increasing tempo, some sort of physicality needs to be written into the music …so there are sections where I will be circular breathing for a long period of time…there’s even a section in the performance where I am running on the spot then that creates the desired effect. So the exact tempo is not so important but to be able to manipulate and encourage kind of peaks and values of that tempo and write music that kind of amplifies that physicality. You end up having a dialogue with what you are hearing in the performance and that’s also why it’s important to put everything on volume pedals under my feet so that I can bring voices in and out …as you bring in another voice it forces you to listen to the ecosystem that you are playing within and then you have to shift …so this is partly improvised music but it’s definitely also composed music, compositional forms that are open ended to play with that shifting element.
It seems the performative element is important to you as a musician, is that fair to say?
That’s very perceptive of you for sure – I like electronic music and I like these sounds and I like the idea that you can sculpt sounds from such broad material but there is often a coldness to the performance aspect of it and coming to it as a saxophonist, you know my background is in performing and its performing in a physical way and that door lead me to electronic music really. I am really catching up on a lot of great music that I am discovering now and really enjoying widening my listening palette but when I started using ,you know, 808 kicks and such identifiable sounds in electronic music I found as soon as you add some sort of human element to it, it becomes so interesting…just to hear these little shifts and those delays that you wouldn’t hear otherwise. The sounds are identifiable on a very quantised realm and you take that quantisation out of it and hear those shifts that are so innately human it puts it immediately in a very unique world to play within.
Some of the venues are intimate on the tour, will that alter your approach ?
It doesn’t alter the approach at all but how you respond to what you are listening to in the room is different – like in a large venue when you can really hear the subs, the system is really a big part of the instrument that you are playing with, the PA system, then that leads you down a pathway of responding to certain things in certain ways. Then when you are in a very small venue and you might have 6 people, fingers crossed, in front of you , then my saxophone might go acoustic and the electronic elements will be mixed by me to an acoustic level of my saxophone so that already creates a different type of relationship with what you are working with. I am going to have to play with the acoustics of the room with my horn to feel its resonances and push the electronics into that space in the confinements of that mix and so you are reacting with things a little differently but now, you know, the approach is the same
You often talk about your music in visual terms. How important are the visual projections to the performance – should it be seen as one with your playing?
It’s an important and exciting element. I will have a projectionist Guillaume Vallee who did the album videos for me – he will be with me and he will have a signal from the same heart rate monitor and pulse which will be triggering some aspect of the visual that he is working with. So it will be an interactive presentation of the document videos that he did – what he is going through in terms of animating his document is the same as what I’m doing with the music and so that process is fun because he will be working with the elements that I am giving him his whole experience will be running parallel to mine. It’s a dialogue and a bit more information for feedback and it kind of expands the world you are playing within so it should be all one. The music has a version too where that visual element is not going to be there and that has different musical implications I would say and what’s on stage at any moment should be conceived as …nothing is a background layer…it’s all tethered together and strung together whatever version is in front of you.
Can I switch onto ‘The Turning Centre Of A Still World’ – it was recorded during lockdown did that have an impact on how the music came across?
I mean the choice to do a solo record was already made pre-pandemic – I had already anticipated that I was going into the studio and I wanted this being my third for Constellation for it to be a solo so the pandemic didn’t influence the solo performance aspect of the record….but certainly the first recording session was cancelled because of the pandemic and I had the opportunity to cocoon myself in this room that I am in right now and work on the music that was going to be recorded . Also because there was no performance that would lead into the recording session, I went about it in terms of dialing in and working on every little sound and wasn’t so concerned about having to stage this… which is not my usual MO. Usually its write something then go perform it once or twice and then go into the studio and record a document of that performance but this was more me tinkering with my electronics and different ways to capture different sounds and then like piece it together into a score and then start to conceive what would be the best way to record this thing. So it was a nice discovery, a release to go into the studio with my friend Radwan (Ghazi Moumneh – recording and mix) where the music came alive for the first time…and I think I basically rewrote every single piece on the record in the studio because the sounds were all there but musically it was kind of being performed for the first time and so I had to re-arrange things to make things work .That was like a nice period of intensity after this very isolated and slow moving time.
You mentioned Constellation – is it important to be on a label that feels like a home for a certain type of music ?
Yeh the Montreal music community is vibrant and diverse but it’s also small and family like and Constellation in that experimental world of music in Montreal is like a supportive home for a lot of music that comes out of here. When I moved to Montreal one of my most formative playing experiences was with Sam Shalabi who like invited me into his orchestra and it was the first time that I was playing with other musicians from different genres and different musical backgrounds to kind of collectively work towards Sam’s unique vision for that ensemble and it just immediately kind of like solidified me in a certain sector of this community in Montreal. Those recordings came out on Constellation and through being involved with those recordings I was on Matana Roberts record, her first CoinCoin project and Thee Silver Mt Zion and other collaborations through that realm. So when my first record came out on Constellation I was really happy that they were supportive of it because it felt like an organic and natural extension to documenting this music
So before we finish who are you listening to at the moment when you are not listening to your own playbacks?
Well you know what that’s a funny question – I just had a daughter very recently, became a father for the first time and I am actually listening to a lot of old school jazz because I have a big vinyl collection at home and my daughter seems to get a real kick out of some of those records… I don’t know if you know many baritone saxophone players but Leo Parker I have been listening to a lot and my daughter seems to really love it … …I bought that Pharoah Sanders/Floating Points record and thought that it’s so beautiful …Roland Kirk plays the same Lyricon that I have here and I’ve been digging into that a little bit but most of my listening at the moment is routed around my daughter.
Well thanks for your time Jason and hope to be seeing you at one of the dates on the tour –it’s a couple of week’s away so I guess you’ll be packing your bags?
Oh my God yeh, that’s a bit of a hurdle actually I’ve got flight cases for everything now and they are all coming in just under weight but it’s always the logistics of these things that are much more stressful than the actual performance and I’ll be driving through the UK too so that’s something I’m a little nervous about …it’ll be great but I’ve just got to get used to the other side of the road!
Jason Sharp UK/EU Tour Dates:
Saturday 30 April 2022 Gijón, ES LEV Festival
Tuesday 3 May 2022 Brighton, GB The Rose Hill
Wednesday 4 May 2022 Margate, GB Elsewhere
Thursday 5 May 2022 Newcastle, GB Cobalt Studios
Wednesday 11 May 2022 Glasgow, GB Glad Cafe
Thursday 12 May 2022 Sheffield, GB Sound Junction
Friday 13 May 2022 London, GB Cafe OTO
Tuesday 17 May 2022 Copenhagen, DK ALICE
Friday 20 May 2022 Berlin, DE Kiezsalon
Tuesday 24 May 2022 Dresden, DE Jazz Club Tonne
Thursday 26 May 2022 Vendôme, FR Fabrique du Docteur Faton
Friday 27 May 2022 Nantes, FR Wine Nat White Heat
Tuesday 31 May 2022 Dijon, FR Festival MV
Tickets via venues or DICE
Pick up a copy of all his albums on Constellation at your local record shop or direct from: https://constellation.bandcamp.com/music