Jason Sharp Puts His Heart — Literally — into 'The Turning Centre of a Still World'

BY Eric HillPublished Aug 27, 2021

Over his first couple of releases for Constellation Records, the sound of Jason Sharp was largely one of transmutation. Via sample and synthesis, expansion and recontextualization, the Montreal musician reshaped the sounds of his saxophone and the bodily elements engaged in play into electroacoustic landscapes that, at times, resembled the pulsing tones of John Carpenter-esque soundtracks describing tension and impending something-or-other. For The Turning Centre of a Still World, Sharp hasn't reinvented his colour wheel, but he has again refined its hues and found a more direct source of light to shine across it.

In part, this shift — defined by the moments where his saxophone peeks through the tonal shadows and shows itself free from enhancements — may derive from being the first truly solo effort Sharp has delivered. For his 2016 debut, A Boat Upon Its Blood, Sharp was joined by Joshua Zubot on violin and Joe Grass on pedal steel filling out the finely detailed work, while 2018's Stand Above the Streams resulted from a collaboration with sound artist Adam Basanta, who contributed controlled feedback and amplification systems in the recordings. Between his releases, Sharp also provided his skills to a variety of other projects including labelmate Sam Shalabi's Land of Kush, Leonard Cohen's posthumous release Thanks for the Dance and the score for action film Jusqu'au Déclin (The Decline).

The through line — or, perhaps more accurately, through pulse — of Sharp's work is provided by a customized heart monitor used to time the modular synthesizers and sample triggers informed by his breath and performance on the saxophone. Its presence is first notable in the constantly varying beat that twists between the cascade of notes that sparkle across "Unwinding Surrender." His extended technique recalls the sound of fellow baritone experimenter Colin Stetson, but with a sleeker approach.

"Velocity of Being" takes on a very Vangelis vibe, conjuring Blade Runner's 1980s imagining of the future, with a cluster of soaring tones and clamoring arpeggios occasionally pierced by the lens flare of a reedy skronk. The album's declarative centre is "Upwelling Hope," with an extended overture that is eventually infused with many roiling and breathy saxophone loops layered atop each other, suggesting life emerging from some protoplasmic mass. It is a thing of beauty and wonder.

Radwan Ghazi Moumneh of Jerusalem in My Heart handles production duties, and at every turn uncovers the human vibration that agitates and casts Sharp's occasionally inorganic tendencies. But it is Sharp himself who shares his literal heart here, at the aptly named "turning centre" of his world of sound.

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