Sonny Sharrock’s Ghost Planet

Several years following the masterful swan song Ask The Ages, the final recorded project of avant-jazz pioneer Sonny Sharrock is a powerful, curious oddity. The otherworldly, zig-zagging riff of Sharrock’s signature wailing guitar provided the iconic theme song for 1994’s animated hybrid experiment Space Ghost Coast To Coast. The theme’s official title, “Hit Single”, exhibits the tongue-in-cheek irony embodied by the show’s sardonic sense of humor. Often overlooked in the galactic pantheon of late night television’s reign as a driving cultural force, the show’s recycled animation and prolific guest list made SGC2C a trailblazing institution.

Distributed as a limited promotional item, Sharrock’s full blistering soundtrack clocks in at a mere fifteen minutes. Expect free-form guitar jams that pull no punches: song fragments like outtake variations on the theme (“Cinnamon Ghost”) to unhinged, electric face melters in “Rocket #99” and “Out to Launch”, the latter’s title a clever nod to Eric Dolphy’s Blue Note masterpiece. Anchoring the improvisational sessions are the tight rhythms of drummer Lance Carter, a collaborator of Sonny’s from the Highlife record cut a few years prior. If a structured composition is to be found here, it is the soundtrack’s closer “Ghost Planet National Anthem”, with harmonizing vocals layered by R&B singer Gerald Alfreda (an effect borrowed from the theme). According to the liner notes, Sharrock once stopped in the middle of the session to ask if a particular take was actually too melodic.

Sharrock’s framework was one microcosm of the show’s nuanced musical sensibilities: musician guests ranged from George Clinton to Jonathan Richman. Nineties alternative stalwarts like Beck and Michael Stipe were a consistent foundation, but flip through another night and you might find personalities as varied as Jim Jarmusch or Timothy Leary. On a rare occasion of an actual musical performance, Pavement stopped by the “set” to perform an improvised freakout jam. In a typical absurdist twist, the band was introduced as The Beatles, replacing the animated in-house band, Zorak and the Original Way Outs. This was, of course, completely void of context to anyone who was not familiar with Pavement. The band would even later release a pair of the SGC2C jams as bonus tracks on the expansive Brighten The Corners reissue.

A posthumous tribute came via an episode simply titled “Sharrock”, as the musician passed during the first season (just six months after the recordings). The guitarist’s involvement was the idea of co-creator and Sharrock fan Mike Lazzo, who at the time pondered, “what kind of music goes with a show that originates in deep space? About the only thing better would have been Sun Ra”. With Thurston Moore as a fitting guest, the episode spiraled into a twelve minute homage to Sharrock’s searing, guitar brand of free jazz (Moore’s own live tribute would later surface on a bonus disc). Whether taken on its own or discovered via the formative program, the score is ultimately a testament to the incredible, singular paths blazed by Sharrock, even to the very end. | m neeley

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