Since the beginning of Badge Époque Ensemble’s impeccable run they’ve been a staple of the site. Culling together some of Canada’s best psych, jazz, and soul players, the band straddles genres in the best way, all pulled together under the direction of Max Turnbull. Max has been finding his way into RSTB pieces well before the Ensemble, though, with stints in The Cosmic Range, production work on U.S. Girls and his solo work as Slim Twig. With their most ambitious album just finding its way out, the gospel-psych gem Clouds of Joy, I thought it time to check in with Max and get him to pick an overlooked entry for Hidden Gems. Check out Turnbull’s dive into a Sonny Sharrock essential.
“Sonny Sharrock is the patron-saint of all guitarists who aspire to jazzy inclinations, but who lean skronk as opposed to screaming scale runs up the fretboard,” notes Turnbull. “This is a fair description of my own guitar style, and as I am a guitar native, Sonny’s work has been a foundational inspiration. His collaborative dynamic with his wife is one I also aspire to and appreciate, spending as I have, the last 10 years helping to build new iterations of Meg’s U.S. Girls band as a guitar player. These intersections of inspiration and parallel-reflection seemed to manifest this LP into my awareness. We have had a beat up copy of Black Woman, the Sharrocks’ first collaborative LP, kicking around for many years (I think, from Meg’s days as a free-jazzer for the west coastin’ bands like Hux & Silver Creme) but I wasn’t aware of Paradise until one day the algorithm tossed it at me. Shortly after, through the wonders of technology and international shipping, it arrived in my mailbox.”
“Like all of the records at the top of my personal pantheon, this album doesn’t fit comfortably into one genre or tradition of music making. It is, instead, an unsettled fusion of ideas and approaches. The attempt — I speculate — is to graft the deeply soulful and chaotic explosion that is the Sharrocks’ mode of ‘free’ jazzing onto the more easily absorbed, smooth surface of jazz-funk. This deeply personalized, free spirited approach to music makes for an uneasy bedfellow with the funky grooves, but the perversity of this mix is something that I find totally engaging. I suspect free-jazz heads and rare groove aficionados would each turn their nose up at the results, but the unorthodoxy draws me in that much tighter. Incredible performances from both Sharrocks — Linda in particular blows me away. Her expansive approach to vocals almost presaged Mary Margaret O’Hara in the 80’s.”
“The album is probably a ‘hidden’ gem as it caters to no audience wholly, is emotionally expansive (intimidatingly so), is too free to funk-out entirely, and too grooving not to try to grab a hold of and dance to when its patches of expressive storminess subside. I think it has influenced me, yes,” remarks Max. “I like thinking about the Trojan horse form of this album. The jazz-funk signifiers it flirts with are a shell that seeks to allow entrance for the boundlessness that is the Sharrocks’ true nature —their channeling of consciousness into raw emotive sound information. Try smuggling Monkey-Pockie-Boo — a more fundamentally free work of theirs — on to the dancefloor and you would have great difficulty. But the funk-front here provides a platform to engage, and the discovery of something expansive and mysterious can take place therein.”
“I think of my approach with Clouds of Joy as similar,” reveals Max. “I like flirting overtly with the signifiers of jazz-funk and library music. That is all identifiable, and I love those forms. Yet, to me those forms are the shell that smuggles in the concerns of the lyrics and the exploration of our live chemistry, the human technology of these particular musicians that form the group in a room together. Those latter elements are for me the true content, but go undercover as grooves which toy with your familiarity with 70’s music.”
I love finding holes in my own concept of an artist, and this is no exception. While I’d been familiar with Sharrock’s early work up through Monkey-Pockie-Boo, I’d somehow jumped the mid-period straight to Ask The Ages. Picking up with this one, it’s clear that I’ve missed out. Thankfully the album isn’t impossible to track down. Digital availability, along with a 2002 CD remaster make this a fairly easy acquisition. If you’re looking for an LP, they can be had without devouring your also. Follow Max’s recommendation here for a scorched-jazz gem, and while you’re at it, grab Clouds of Joy from Telephone Explosion as well. It’s one of their best yet.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.