Composer and saxophonist Samuel Sharp’s latest album ‘Patterns Various’ reflects a fresh shift towards his output as a live performer and composer, creating innovative soundscapes that blur the lines between jazz, electronic and experimental. DMCWORLD checks in…
Hello Samuel, thanks for speaking with DMCWORLD. For anyone not familiar with you, please introduce yourself and what you do.
Hi – pleasure to meet you all. I’m Samuel Sharp, a saxophone player, composer and producer from Hackney in East London.
How would you describe your music? What are the elements that make it distinctive?
My latest works are written for solo saxophone and electronics, and the music crosses the boundaries between electronica, classical minimalism, jazz and experimental genres. It’s a live project that sounds intimate yet epic as the sax melodies and motifs trigger cascades of cyclic soundscapes. I would say it’s pretty unique sonic-wise, especially as it consists of just sax and effects – tempting as it was to drop in some beats and other layers as I was putting it together.
Talk us through your new album ‘Patterns Various’? What drove you to create the album?
For the last few years I’ve been releasing music under the producer alias Lossy, with a wide range of styles but this has been mainly beats-focused / electronic music. With a couple of notable exceptions (e.g. my live EP Microverse), I was finding it frustrating that I couldn’t translate these multi layered and intricate productions on stage too well, without it becoming a little cumbersome. For example, I once did a gig that took 45 minutes to set up for a 20 minute set, followed by a 45 minute pack down at the end too! I had tables of controllers, synths and looping gear to get to grips with, and I was jumping about between all of my toys. While this was a lot of fun and I often revel in technical challenges like this, it did make me wonder what I could do that would feature my saxophone up front and centre, and would potentially use a more simple set up. I just wanted to play my sax a lot more, not just be pressing the space bar and waiting around to slowly build up loops or trigger layers in ableton. Then I stumbled across some incredible harmoniser and delay effects and knew I’d found the sound for this project. It worked really well with audiences on the early gigs – I was playing my sax pretty constantly and people seemed to connect with that. At the same time I’d been thinking a lot about patterns, repetitions, mathematics found in nature and telling some stories about things I had observed along these lines. So these concepts slowly started weaving their way into my compositions and improvisations and Patterns Various as an album was born. There are a variety of scenes I’m imagining as I perform: examples include maypole dancers, fireworks, the changing seasons, a car journey through wooded hills, pushing my kids on swings and birds taking flight.
Using effects on your saxophone were an important part of creating the album’s sound. Please could you talk us through the processes and theory?
Absolutely – the key effects in use here are two Eventide H9 pedals in series, along with a couple of more utility things like EQ and basic reverb. But it really is just a simple small board of 4 guitar pedals and a mini mixer – there are no loopers or backing tracks going on, it’s all created live from scratch. If I stop playing it all stops, and if I I get out a bit with my rhythms or pitches it can all come crashing down! To dig deeper into how some of the H9’s harmoniser effects work here – the basic premise is you set a key or scale you are working in and then pick some harmonic intervals above and/or below your played note. Then as you play notes in, chords are formed, a bit like the old auto-harmony feature found on casio keyboards in the 80s. The real fun begins when you delay these harmonisations, so for example I might play a C on my sax, then the effects pedal will play a 3rd above that (E) one beat later, and then the 5th another beat after that (G), and thus by playing one note you have a C major arpeggio. Now if instead of playing one single note, I keep playing a melody, groove or arpeggiated sequence, you get this amazing cascade of chords and arpeggios, as each component is effectively copied and pasted elsewhere in the musical and stereophonic space. I found it was particularly interesting to improvise around certain restrictions. In some pieces I have a defined set of notes but improvise the bar lengths and meter, in others I’ll make up the section structure / arrangements on the fly, and some are more traditional improvs where I set up a groove and just see what happens and where it takes me.
If money was no object, what item of studio equipment would you get?
Ah – there are loads! Probably an Eventide H9000 which is like 16 H9 pedals combined in one mega rack unit. Also on my list would be an upright piano, a baritone sax, a vintage Yamaha CS80 synthesizer and loads of tasty microphones and preamps. Oh, and someone scientific-looking in a lab coat to set up all my gear and tidy up my sessions for me!
What have been the biggest influences in your music career so far?
Sax-wise probably John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Wayne Shorter and Joshua Redman. Artist-wise I grew up on a varied diet of fayre including A Tribe Called Quest, James Taylor, Bjork, Brad Mehldau, Radiohead, Shostakovich, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Massive Attack and E.S.T. For me it’s not just about the writing, performances or production, but more often these days I ask myself “Do I genuinely believe what this artist is trying to to say, and have they managed to communicate it effectively? Or are they just trying to sound like someone who makes music?” I’ve been really lucky to have a whole host of great teachers, band leaders and peers to learn from over the years too, especially from the UK jazz scene – their combined positivity and energy has contributed hugely to where I am today.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Wow that’s a tough one! A little while back my good friend Graham Luckhurst (aka Greymatter) suggested I should play to my strengths more as a composer and sax player, rather than just making beats as a producer and that definitely stuck with me. Sometimes you just need advice from someone you really trust to help you take a step back from the coalface and make longer term decisions like that. He knew the unique and specialist skills I could bring to the table, and his advice helped me focus on what really matters to me and my music.
What are three new tracks/albums you’d recommend someone to listen to?