The official scrutinizers of Elliott Sharp’s activity are used to a lot of things, but imagining the ever-active cyber-head as the originator of a soundtrack for a noir was indeed pretty difficult. Hold your horses, though: Toni Dove’s Spectropia is not a standard film, being also — according to E#’s words — “an interactive media event set in a possible England in 2099 and in New York City in 1931 after the stock market crash”. Intriguing, to say the least.
Not less interesting is the stab at mixing different idioms in original ways, some of them probably tackled by Sharp for the very first time. Helped by a clutch of past and present collaborators (including, among others, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, pianist Anthony Coleman, bassist David Hofstra and the Sirius String Quartet), he produced 22 relatively short segments whose stylistic range oscillates between his renowned computerized action, über-distorted and typically twisted guitar solos, swinging big bands (“an imagined meeting of the music of Duke Ellington and Edgard Varèse”), and XX century chamber music (the gorgeous “Folding” and “Unfolding”, executed by Sirius with soul and brain). The rock ballad “This Time That Place”, sung by a Marianne Faithfull-like Debbie Harry — “Heart Of Glass” has never sounded so distant — constitutes the main theme of the opus appearing in various instrumental guises all over the CD. My favorite version is Coleman’s jewel for solo piano placed towards the end of the program; however, the beguine-fashioned adaptation (“Then Again”), enriched by Duane Eubanks’ trumpet, is equally worthwhile.
Overall, this is a smartly conceived and realized work and an entertaining listen under many aspects. Those fortunate enough to attend the happening will count on a great souvenir to remember the evening, the composer’s eclecticism shining bright as always. I’ll admit it: while listening to the fast-paced swing of the conclusive “Chaos Ball”, this reviewer couldn’t resist picturing a suddenly liberated Sharp performing a Charleston act together with the rest of the crew. Fantasies, you know…