Linda Sharrock, Photo by Melanie Marsman (2017)
THE SIREN SONGS OF LINDA SHARROCK LIVE
“TARRYING is a technique I learned in church. It was for folks who really needed a breakthrough. We would “tarry" / stay in the pain/stay in the expectancy of a spiritual confrontation until we were satisfied.
On the other side of the tarrying is joy.”
— Dr. Treasure Redmond
In Linda Sharrock’s wordless refrains I hear a sort of tarrying that, instead of summoning the Holy Spirit, vaults collective reckoning into a massive, sonic electricity. I hear a turbulent stream of restlessness carrying with it generations of historical dread and despair. Linda Sharrock is a guide of avant-garde and vocal improvisation. She embodies a full articulation of the love and hope, sickness and healing, and pain and transformation that encompass Black American womanhood. Linda Sharrock is audacious and epitomizes the fundamental connection between artistry and identity. Her direct and instinctive artistic merit challenged commercial expectations by confronting the avant-garde era with a commanding femininity. The texture of her voice — familiar to and understood by those of us still robed in the aural memories of our mothers and theirs — further distorted conventions on melodic structure, rhythmic possibilities and lyrical witticisms. For Linda, music is a site of authenticity, even if the music is met with consternation. From her mouth flows a deepness of constant being, a self-determined sound away from relativism, and toward a very specific, organic and radical expression of Black femininity’s psych.
Born Linda Chambers (April 2, 1947) in Philadelphia, PA, her musical destiny would take root in early childhood when she sang in local church and school youth choirs. She graduated high school in 1965 and moved to New York to study painting at Arts Students League. But within a matter of weeks, after frequenting the live music scenes, her interests in Jazz and Black Folk music would center her own expressive language in the city’s bustling Free Jazz movement. The somewhat-improvised and structureless sub genre of Jazz blending Blues, Gospel/Spirituals and Bebop elements was inspiring a new wave of political resistance and calls to action, nationally. But Linda was right where she needed to be to connect with experimental musicians — saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and her would-be husband, guitarist Sonny Sharrock — as she abandoned her studies for something greater. “l sneaked into this club on the Lower East Side, and on stage was Sonny and Pharoah [Sanders] and Milford Graves. Sonny was doing something that I had never heard and it was like… Wow! You know? So I just went up there and asked if I could sit in. That was the start of my career, and three weeks later Sonny and I got married."
Sonny & Linda Sharrock’s 1969 debut album, Black Woman, forced masculinity’s dominance over the avant-garde sound into obeisance at the power and control of Linda’s vocal instrument. Screaming, humming, moaning and whispering — sometimes in unison, sometimes in call-and-response duet — with the deconstructed cadences of guitar string scrubbing, sax timbres and piano chords, Linda’s soprano shrills are the centerpiece and soul of the album. It’s (always been) Linda Sharrock’s improvisational freedom that impresses. She uses syllabic vocal swelling/inflections with abstractions of the Blues’ achey sensuality, Gospel’s hymns and testimony, and African Folk’s ritualistic vibrations to create massive Jazz collages that draw on our multidimensional heritage — not just sonically, but sentiently, too. The result, frenetic whimpers and wails that expand language’s absence into a rapturous new form of expression; her voice, a stethoscope on the pulse of an identity’s righteous rage.
For Linda, the sound is, both, about AND not about aesthetic viability; the notes and rhythms are platforms for the angst, anger, pain, desire and persistence of a people. And the very fact that she couldn’t be typified is what shifted avant-garde into a musical realm of its own. Sonny’s sustained rise to fame would heavily rely on the siren songs of Linda’s gifted voicebox, both before and after their 1978 divorce. The couple released two additional joint projects, Monkey-Pockie-Boo in 1970 and Paradise in 1975. The latter, their first label-backed record, was produced by Turkish avant-garde Electronic composer Ilhan Mimaroglu. The label’s intention was to garner more commercial success, though the project’s electric pianos and unpredictable fusion of R&B and Funk grooves received harsh criticisms from the mainstream world. So, shortly after her divorce from Sonny, Linda relocated to Vienna where she began working with musician and composer Wolfgang Puschnig, who later became her second husband. Her time was spent touring — mostly away from America, though frequently performing the Jazz festival circuit with Sonny — and simultaneously working on her own experimental suites with new collaborators. To name a few: 1975’s Jazz For Thinkers recorded with a group of Austrian improvisers, 1989’s …And She Answered recorded with Puschnig and pianist Uli Scherer, 1995’s …And Then Comes The White Tiger recorded with South Korean percussion ensemble Samul Nori, a tribute to Billie Holiday titled On Holiday (1990), Like A River (1994) featuring Freak Power trombonist Ashley Slater, and Confessions (2004) featuring Stephan Oliva on piano and Chad Tchamitchian on bass.
Linda Sharrock, Photo by Jeanne Davy (2004)
Linda Sharrock, Photo by Peter Bastian
Throughout the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, Linda Sharrock toured, worked, and lived in Istanbul, Korea, Bangkok and London, and was featured as a guest vocalist on works with The Roots, Austrian poet Ernst Jandl, and Japanese artist Aki Onda, among many others. Sharrock’s creative output, ever-driven by inarticulable emotions, continuously challenged expectations as her later works found her dabbling in R&B and Pop-influenced sounds. She even wrote lyrics, with the encouragement of a poetry teacher, for select recordings/performances; namely, an original composition, “A Long Way From Home,” which appeared on Puschnig’s Pieces Of The Dream album. But she suffered a debilitating stroke in 2009 that left her partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Still, she remained determined to work, tour and reclaim her artist self. And that’s precisely what she’s done with the support of her musical partners and longtime collaborators, Mario Rechtern and Margaret Unknown (Max Bogner).
Linda’s 2014 return to music was a part-live, part-studio recording titled, No Is No: Don’t Fuck Around With Your Women. In 2016, under the name Linda Sharrock/The Abyssity Of The Grounds (Linda’s multiplying orbit of musicians from France, Italy, Japan, the UK and Switzerland), the Gods and They Begin to Speak albums were released. Collectively, they returned to touring and Linda — who now performs seated in a wheelchair — ululates in deeper registers; without the range she once possessed, but with the same unruly-yet-compelling ability to sonically wade through the totality of Black feminine emotion. She tarries on with pure musicality to the breakthrough; to that peak of catharsis on the other side of distress. And for the first time since the ‘70s, Linda Sharrock will perform in NYC to vault collective reckoning into a massive, sonic electricity at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for Saint Heron’s Solange Knowles-curated “Eldorado Ballroom” music and performance series.
"The most important thing is to express what you're feeling inside - and accept the consequences. That kind of liberation has slipped away from many people; it hasn't slipped away from me.”
—Linda Sharrock (1994)
Linda Sharrock, Photo by Gilles Petard (1970)
Shantel Aurora for Saint Heron
Sabla Stays for Saint Heron
Web Development by