Released Friday 19th February 2021
Pre-order from Bandcamp
A delicious fusion of jazz, minimalist, electronic and experimental, Samuel Sharp’s Patterns Various is totally unique. It is an ambitious, exhilarating album that will become a fixture on your playlist for months to come. Gordon Rutherford digs the patterns for Louder Than War.
Putting aside rarely seen or relatively inaccessible natural phenomena, such as a solar eclipse or the aurora borealis, there are few things more visually stunning or transfixing than murmurations. Those crepuscular gatherings, where thousands of birds weave intricate patterns across the darkening sky, forming shapes resembling dense clouds. The birds swooping as one, changing direction and continually morphing into an alternative form. Close your eyes and visualise it. You are now close to the feel of Patterns Various, Samuel Sharp’s first album released under his own name.
You may be familiar with some of Sharp’s earlier output under his Lossy alias. In a bold step, Sharp has chosen to put that moniker behind him now as he rebrands and repositions his music. Listening to Patterns Various, that decision seems eminently sensible, given the variance in style. Gone are the dance-oriented tunes that were created by multiple keyboards and banks of tech. Instead, what we have now is something that is significantly pared back and unquestionably more unique.
Patterns Various is an incredibly innovative series of soundscapes that defy categorisation. Primarily, it is built upon Sharp’s outstanding, and quite unconventional, saxophone playing. He has an incredible ability to extract sounds from his instrument that seem to defy logic. These are compositions that reel and loop, built upon his saxophone feeding out and running through a pedal-board of delays, reverbs and harmonisers to create an utterly inimitable sound. Dig deeper and you can detect Sharp’s dance music sensibility weaving under the surface of the hypnotic rhythmic patterns. And underpinning it all is his compositional nous and the critical understanding that sometimes less is more.
Let’s return to those murmurations. The album was initially inspired by Sharp’s observations of patternistic phenomena, ranging from traditional English maypole dancers to fireworks, from autumn leaves falling to pushing swings with his children. And, you guessed it, starling murmurations. All patterns, all repeating whilst changing slightly with each passing move. The album is called Patterns Various for a reason.
It is evident that Sharp hasn’t only been motivated by visual stimuli. There are several musical influences detectable on Patterns Various. Like an alchemist, he has taken pinches of ingredients from an incredibly diverse range of source material and fused them together to make magic. I’m not categorically certain whether Colin Stetson’s magnificent 2017 album, All This I Do For Glory, was a direct influence on Sharp at all, but there are clear similarities between both artists. Patterns Various elevates Sharp alongside Stetson as one of the great sax innovators of our time, with both artists capable of eliciting wonderfully distinctive sounds from their instrument. Moreover, both have an electronic sensibility, with a keen ear to develop something beyond the conventional.
There are other clues to Sharp’s influences that can be gleaned from his recent invitation to curate an hour’s worth of music for Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone on BBC 6 Music. Sharp’s selection included the likes of Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Caroline Shaw and Daniel Herskedal. So, there’s a fusion of electronica, jazz and modern classical in there, all potentially bubbling away in Sharp’s creative melting pot to conceive the wonder that is Patterns Various. Sharp also included a track from Steve Reich in his playlist and there is no doubt that Patterns Various has been shaped by that giant of classical music. Sharp’s compositions are stripped back to the bare bones with nothing superfluous. In that sense, they can be described as minimalist. Furthermore, he employs repeating patterns throughout his songs, each built upon a key motif that delays and loops around again, changing slightly and evolving. Just like Reich.
Nevertheless, Samuel Sharp is his own man. Whilst he may draw on the musical brilliance of others, he forges his own path. Yes, Patterns Various could be described as minimalist, however, this is his own brand of that form. The term minimalism (and Reich’s work is typical in this regard) is often associated with starkness, a glacial aloofness. Patterns Various is anything but. Instead, it is an album of incredible warmth and optimism. That warmth comes directly from Sharp’s exquisite sax playing, which is often improvised and recorded live. This brings a sense of immediacy to proceedings, as well as one of great intimacy. The timbre is rich and embracing and the overall combination of production and musicianship makes it feel like Sharp is playing in the room with you.
Furthermore, the comparison with Colin Stetson has validity on one level, but, again, there is a marked difference to highlight. Stetson’s music is of the urban sprawl; it is New York City at rush hour. By contrast, Sharp’s album is much more serene, evoking images of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, all rolling meadows and sun-dappled dells.
Patterns Various is made up of nine outstanding songs, all of which are stimulatingly titled. Rarely have I encountered an album where the song titles are so descriptive of the sound within. Dawn Rises is composed around a delightful pattern of ascending notes that evoke the sunrise. As a consequence, it’s a track that leaves you feeling optimistic and uplifted, just like watching a new day dawning. You can hear the skippy footfall of the traditional English dancers in The Maypole, whilst the pattern created by Catching Leaves is one of unpredictability and randomness. You never know which branch is going to set free a leaf next. And, of course, we have the musical murmuration of Starling Swarm.
And another possible influence. Two tracks conjured up turn-of-the-millennium period Radiohead with the melody of Pushing Swings reminiscent of Hunting Bears from Amnesiac and the mournful final track, Creatures In The Mist, evoking Kid A’s Motion Picture Soundtrack.
As marvellous as it all is, I’m certain that there will be other releases in 2021 that match the greatness of Patterns Various. However, what I can say with absolute certainty is that you are unlikely to hear anything else that sounds anything remotely like this album. Samuel Sharp has honed a quite unique and brilliant sound that, for all the very subtle similarities to others, is all his own. And with Patterns Various, he has created an ambitious, exhilarating album that will become a fixture on your daily playlist for months to come.
Patterns Various is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.
All words by Gordon Rutherford. More writing by Gordon can be found in his archive.