I am not a particular fan of ‘vocal jazz’. Good jazz expresses the inexpressible so why would one have to explain it in a song? But as usual, there are many exceptions to the rule and Linda Sharrock is one of them. A few weeks ago, much to my surprise, I was invited to one of her concerts in The Hague. I could understand her playing my city but I was somewhat taken aback at the location: the Autonoom Centrum, a squatters’ café in the Bezuidenhout neighbourhood. This café often features exciting music but more for the young lions of the extreme avant-garde. A mature diva was the last person I would have expected to perform there. The organiser, gifted young pianist Leo Svirsky, assured me it was not a joke.
I first heard of Linda Sharrock when she was closely collaborating with Austrian saxophone player Wolfgang Puschnig. Puschnig, who became famous with the Vienna Art Orchestra, kept churning out exciting records by using a number of strongly disparate musical traditions. ‘Roots and Fruits’, for instance, brought together an Austrian brass band, a Korean percussion group and an American jazz band. You could not really call it ‘Fusion’ as he didn't blend these styles in some kind of musical 'smoothie'. It was more like actual ‘confrontations’. With a happy end, though. And then Linda Sharrock’s voice! Dark, warm, rhythmic, sensual, rebellious, committed …. For me, in one word, ‘mesmerizing’.
How she landed on the ‘Austrian stage’ I don’t know. She’d been rather successful in her native country, the US. She had sung with Material, one of Bill Laswell’s many fantastic bands, and turned out to be the widow of Sonny Sharrock, a fantastic guitar player whom I knew from another of Bill Laswell’s projects: Last Exit. And all of a sudden, there she was, in the squatters’ café… A little googling yielded some explanation for her appearance: she had had a severe cerebral hemorrhage and, despite her handicap, for Linda was no longer able to speak, she was on her way to make a comeback with a group of improvisers.
And there she was. Hunched on a wheelchair, her hair in a woolen cap. She signaled she needed a light. I had a lighter and seized the opportunity to tell her how grand it was for me to meet her. And then what? How do you have a conversation with someone who can’t talk back?
Half way through the concert, I suddenly realised that Linda had come ‘full circle’. On her first LP with Sonny Sharrock, she’d also sang that kind of wordless vocals. Portrait of Linda in three colors – all black was the name of the piece. I had just seen a portrait of Linda again. Right in front of my nose. Probably a darker one. But the colours! The whole gamut of life and all black.
Afterwards, I said a dazed goodbye and kissed her. She smiled. Life was good.
Click here to view most of the concert.
The concert of Ape Club can be found here.