Sonny Sharrock: Ask The Ages (1991) Hive Mind (2019)

Selection: Who Does She Hope To Be?

.  .  .

Track List

Promises Kept                       9:43
Who Does She Hope to Be? 4:41
Little Rock                             7:12
As We Used to Sing              7:45
Many Mansions                     9:31
Once Upon a Time                6:26


Sonny Sharrock, electric guitar;  Pharoah Sanders, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Charnett Moffett, acoustic bass; Elvin Jones, drums 

Many hands make light work. Recorded at Sorcerer Sound by Jason CorsaroOz FritzRobert Musso; mixed at Platinum Island Studios by Jason Corsaro, assistant Wes Naprstek; mastered by Howie Weinberg at Masterdisk; produced by Bill Laswell, originally released 1991 on Laswell’s Axiom label. Remastered at Church Road Studios, Hove, UK by Julian Tardo.

It claims to be stereo, mixed as a Wall Of Sound with just a tad of of instrument positioning. It’s also firmly in the digital era, 1991, transistor microphones, solid state multitrack mixing, whatever. I wonder what those six guys listed in the engineering credits were doing all day in the studio apart from modelling Ray-Bans? Van Gelder did it all by himself, and I think better.


Ask The Ages was among Sharrock’s last recorded works. – he passed away just three years later, at the age of only 53.

A Wiki writer described Ask the Ages as “hands down, Sharrock’s finest hour, and the ideal album to play for those who claim to hate jazz guitar.” Whilst I am not a fan of every instrument, I don’t think I actually hate any, though a question mark hangs over the bagpipes, French horn, update! and arco-bass). What I do hate is vacuous statements, like that one. 

“Who Does She Hope to Be?”, Wiki continues, is “a lyrical piece harkening back to the Coltrane/Davis Kind of Blue sessions that had inspired him to play in the first place”. Is this generated by ChatGPT? Who Does She.. is certainly the stand out track: lyrical, quite emotional, I enjoy the suspense as it slowly unfolds, nesting Charnett Moffett’s articulate bass. But I can’t hear Kind Of Blue in there, a quite different aesthetic. It is multi-tracked electric guitar, with double-tracked fuzzy chordal counterpoint, in a misty sonic background, and a generous hat-tip to Carlos Santana in the solo lines.

Sharrock’s guitar signature tone is distortion, and he is known for his “heavily chorded attack, highly amplified bursts of feedback, and use of aggressive sustain“. In a world saturated with guitar players, of every imaginable style, amplifier overload was nothing new. (I say that as a former guitarist, Les Paul solid body/Marshall stack, no effects pedal required). I’m not sure I would even describe it as jazz guitar, the improvisation, chording and fretwork isn’t there. It belongs more in the collision genre that combined avant-garde jazz rock and hip-hop punk, add a generous helping of NY faux-nihilism. Nineties Neo-Brutalism. 

Charnett Moffett was a prominent figure in the fusion genre, I have some LPs in the loft,  his adept finger-work here on upright bass is a delight. Pharoah is in there too somewhere, though I think not on this track, whilst Elvin is everywhere, if possibly a little restrained. 

Vinyl: Hive Mind Records HMRLP005 (UK 2019) 45rpm 2xLP

Vinyl reissue of 1991 recording, cut for vinyl presumably from a digital PCM source, mastered at low gain/narrow groove width. Sleeve note invites you to play loud, I guess to compensate for the low gain, pity the neighbours. Pressed on 2 x 45rpm LPs, when it will fit on one LP,  no indication of the source, or where pressed, all very “Brighton DJ“.

Harry’s Place

Finger on the shutter button, Harry seizes the moment, Sonny Sharrock, Montreux 1970, and Elvin Jones,  Jazz Expo 1970  .







Photo Credits © Harry M

Collector’s Corner

Original Axiom CD from the Bill Laswell stable.

The original cover art was at least true to the title “Ask The Ages“,  symbolic figures of ancient wisdom. The inclusion of a crucifix was brave but perhaps a bridge too far for modern times. Touchy business, religion, as opposed to archaeology. This is what the LP might have looked like based on the CD Insert.

The reissue’s purely typographic design was undoubtedly a safer choice, though it illustrates the limitations of Bill Laswell’s  dictum: “music as art and art as a weapon”. A weapon best aimed at people who don’t shoot back.

Oh oh, I spoke too soon. “Mr Laswell, I have a Mr. Tutankhamun’s lawyer on the phone. A Mr Ptah would like a word.” 

This recording was recommended to me. I tried it, with an open mind, but it is not really my thing. I am not criticising the music, all music is good, but this is not to my taste. However, past experience suggest there will be Sonny Sharrock devotees out there. No reason why they should not get some airtime at LJC, they have put up with my tastes, jazz is a broad church, have your say.

Feel free to educate me if you think I am missing out.  The search for good music should never stop at the boundary of what you already know you like. If it did, a dozen years ago I would have missed out jazz altogether. 

On the other hand, if you are not into this Laswell-inspired Nineties genre, a bus to your preferred destination will be along shortly.  Back to the mainstream next week.

UPDATE  Exceleration Candid reissue (2022) verdict

Based on this one record, not good. It takes some talent to manufacture a warped 180gm LP, but Exceleration’s chosen manufacturing plant managed it.  I watched the tone arm ride up and down, cart just tracking. No name credited, and I’m not surprised. Unforgivable. 

We know Bernie Grundman re-mastered it, as his initials are in the run out. From what?

Sonics? Shallow, lacking any body or presence you might expect from a quality transfer from original tapes. Missing sonic detail, attack, bass-floor, air, nothing. I took it off the turntable after a few minutes, unlistenable. Whatever the quality on the original tapes, it was lost in translation.

Exceleration may be marketing whizzkids, and Bernie Grundman is a big engineering name, but sonically, it sounds weak to me, like a digital transfer. I know it claims to be mastered from original tapes (none shown)  and it doesn’t sound like it to me. There is something wrong in the chain, I don’t know what, but it’s not right.

I hoped it might at least be decent listen, but I had to take it off after a few minutes.  Maybe too cheaply made, quality sacrificed to make the low price-point. The debacle of Blue Note 75, also involved Mr Grundman, multiple errors in trying to manufacture at a low unit price, is this a repeat performance? My advice, give Exceleration Candid reissues a miss. If you can’t run to an original, seek out a decent Barnaby reissue.

If anyone else has taken a punt on other titles in this Candid reissue series, give us a shout. I still think the “original tapes” story looks shaky, initials in the runout prove nothing, and we have defective pressing quality. I hope the Directors of Exceleration feel some financial pain from the return rate, and reputation damage – teach them something about proper vinyl manufacture business, and quality control. They need an engineering champion on board, and it’s not BG. I can’t return it, but will find a use for it, a nice retro dinner plate coaster, or plant stand.

Not been a very good week all in all: check in airport  two hours before flight then three hours delay to take off, and it’s bloody cold here in the UK! Arrive home, pop on Booker’s That’s It!, and it’s pants.  Some days are just not meant to be.




15 thoughts on “Sonny Sharrock: Ask The Ages (1991) Hive Mind (2019)

  1. this post was a surprise. why?. because I discovered to own this record, and didn’t know, and, actually never listened to. maybe it’s the right time, the proposed title is intriguing.


  2. I have an Italian pressing of “That’s It” that I probably bought in a cut-out bin many moons ago. I pulled it out after your review, and for the most part I found it listenable while taking in the fact that it has considerable age on it, and certainly not 180 grams. Sometimes I just have to pay attention to the music-with Booker leading the way, that’s not hard to do! Do the Italians know how to press records? Yes, the 64 dollar question….


  3. Hi LJC, I have Miles Davis Milestones CL 1193 and the 6 eye label is maroon. with silver eyes. What the heck is this ?

    Michael Lowe, Esq.

    Lipsky Bresky & Lowe, LLP

    585 Stewart Avenue, Suite 306

    Garden City, NY 11530

    (516) 227-2700

    ? ________________________________


  4. Hi LJC,
    I got the Charles Mingus reissue. It’s a “ decent “ listen ,much better than the CD I have thank God. The vinyl is flat , well centred and was clean straight out of the sleeve. The music pans to the left and right with not much centre ( a bit like some RVGs I have ) but as I said it’s decent.
    I compared it to a Pure Pleasure reissue of the Newport Jazz Rebels . The Rebels is a very loud cut and has a CD harshness to it.
    So I’m happy with the Mingus.
    Hope that this information is of some use
    Regards and thanks for your informative site.


  5. You’re dead right with these Candid reissues LJC. I bought both the Otis Span and Lightnin’ Hopkins titles from different shops and returned them both. Between the two records the anonymous manufactures managed to mail every pressing flaw that plagues modern production: warped, dished, covered in paper dust, that churning noise that underlies all tracks (probably no-fill) and repetitive clicks and pops. In short, shocking. I can only presume that a lot of people either don’t care or don’t notice and that’s how they get away with it. The old “it’s a record so it’s supposed to be noisy” argument which winds me up no end. Anyway, love the blog LJC


  6. “What I do hate is vacuous statements, like that one”

    Well…I admit: That statement really did make me laugh. And it was totally apropos:. those all-knowing, all-wise music critics can really be profiles in anal pomposity sometimes. I tried my very hardest to replicate their high-brow expressiveness in some of my eBay reviews, but Academy Award-winning success continues to elude me.

    However, one should bear in mind that even the most vacuous cliches can, in fact, intermittently contain a kernel of truth (or, as they say in my neck of the woods: “even the blind chicken can hit a grain of corn”). Ask the Ages is, put simply, a masterwork by a true master. Or, perhaps, I should say: the masterS. This is a line-up from heaven: only God is missing here (must have been busy jamming with Jimi Hendrix that day).

    Since I cannot comment on the quality of the vinyl pressing (and, being virtually deaf in one ear, this being a personal moot point), I tend to take your word for the integrity and appeal (or lack thereof) of the HIve Mind pressing. I generally take a dim view of the latest generation of the “audiophile” , i.e. heavy vinyl pressings. My default view is that they are all, by definition, one form of corporate fraud or another, and, following the recent Mo-Fi faux-analogue brouhaha, I will believe the analog reissue claims when I meet Elvis in person.

    Observations: three quick points lest I overcome my welcome:

    I disagree that there is an overabundance of overamplified and distorted electric guitar Jazz recordings out there. In fact, if we exclude a handful of John McLaughlin recordings (assuming that he can, in fact, be considered “Jazz” rather than “Rock”, which is a little iffy, if anyone asks me) and a few of Sharrock’s own sessions with Miles, I really can’t think of (m)any. Most guitar Jazz is traditional-toned, barely-amplified, in the general vein of Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Raney, Kenny Burrell and T-Bone Walker. Did I miss something in my fretted Jazz education?

    2.. 1990s digital feel. Yes. It is palpable. No two ways about. And, to make it even worse, it is one of those fairly crude, cringey, early digi-jobs before digital technology became even minimally credible. But – to its credit – the presence and the frequency (but not dynamic) range of the recording do override and cancel out the sonic holes in the digital job (I am talking about the original CD here. I have had no exposure to the Hive Mind release) (what a ridiculous name for the recording company. Who comes up with this nonsense? Where do I apply for the job?).

    I recognize that this recording won’t make you a raving fan of Mr. Sharrock (which is somewhat unfortunate), and perhaps you should not have him violently shoved down your throat against your will. I also share your dislike for Tutankhamun, Isis and/or Osiris, Ptah, Horus (and/or their lawyers and publicists), Egyptian book of the dead and all that silly pseudo-esoteric BS associated with Bill Laswell’s school of quasi-spiritual New Age psychobabble; but if you filter out all that mental filler, what remains is one of the finest recordings in the history of electric Jazz and a worthy ending to a thoroughly worthy career,

    Finally, I have no idea where the original reviewer saw the similarity between Ask the Ages and Miles-Coltrane recordings. This is about as belabored an analogy as I have yet encountered, probably only intended to shoe-in the two famous names into the review for clickbait purposes. The only thing these three legends ever had in common is Elvin Jones and even this just barely, as Miles worked with Elvin only once, during the early “Blue Moods” sessions for Debut. Chalk one up for crass cluelessness.

    Kudos, hosannas and curtsies galore and all manner of lavish and extravagant praise for reviewing one of my favorites!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Never mind about hating jazz guitar what Ieaves me cold is the bowed bass solo, it can be effective in a ballad context but not mid tempo or above. PC the finest time bassist of all time is certainly not above criticism in this respect


  8. Hi There: So I’m a huge Sonny Sharrock fan (also a Booker Ervin fan but more on that in a minute). I dont’ think I can convince someone to love Ask the Ages the way I do. It’s not the freakiest of Sharrock’s recordings (for those, see his work with Peter Brotzmann, particularly “Last Exit”) but I want to state that if you can find it, there is a MUCH better pressing than the one you review. Vinyl Me Please did an exclusive pressing of this on a single vinyl, mastered and cut by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. Given that this was originally recorded at a good studio in New York and mastered at top-notch facility Masterdisk (the SPARS code on the cd says AAD, suggesting this may have originally been recorded to tape), I can tell you that the VMP pressing sounds fantastic. I’ll link to it below (not available but perhaps may get repressed).


    • Ooops, forgot the link. But I also want to state that I have an original stereo pressing of the Booker Ervin lp and it sounds pretty bad–the reissue which I own is about the same. I think Candid, being a budget label, just didn’t invest in proper recording studios for the most part. Lots of great music–Mingus, Dolphy, Cecil Taylor, many of which doesn’t sound great. Here’s the link to the Sharrock. For an easier listen to get a sense of Sharrock’s genius, his debut, Black Woman, is incredible:


      • I disagree. My original Mingus trounced the new re issue. Night and day. I find original candid recordings to be good off which I have a few. As LJC says buy and original or a Barnaby.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I was one person who recommended “Ask the Ages” during your investigations into Pharoah Sanders. I’m glad you gave it a try and thank you for posting your feelings about it on your site. I hoped it would work for you, but cest la vie. Maybe another time.
    I’ve been a fan of this album since it’s release in 91, and I did buy the vinyl reissue, listened once and gave it away. Sometimes recorded music just doesn’t work on vinyl the way I want it to.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The Sonny Sharrock record has been recommended to me too on a few occasions. Must confess to never having heard the vinyl, having done my usual routine of a streaming flypast to see if it’s worth landing. I’m partial to well-executed cacophony; e.g., I love Pharoah’s Impulse era with few reservations. But have never understood the appeal of Sharrock, and this might be exhibit A. The music seems dense, and where Pharoah would often give you room to breathe, here the fireworks just seem to go on without respite. Perhaps the vinyl brings something different to the dynamics, but I suspect not enough for me even so.

    I know people dig him and more power to them. But as you say, not my taste.


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