Review: Jason Sharp – “Stand Above The Streams”

For all its wondrous ambiguity, ambient music can be an exacting sort of art; one false step or misplaced note, and the whole canvas is not inspired so much as splattered with disconnected or unfulfilled ideas. Such is the case with the new record from Jason Sharp, Stand Above The Streams, out this Friday on Constellation Records.

There’s some riveting stuff, sure, on the record, which is composed of four, almost identically titled 10-minute suites. Sharp’s breath control on the second composition, for example, is, dare I say it, breathtaking – masterful. But he surrounds it with synth swells that would be sub-par for Tangerine Dream. Elsewhere, Sharp hints at the subtle grandeur, if such a thing could be said to exist, of Tim Hecker but, for all the care these compositions exude, they sometimes lack wonder. Though they’re more than a mere demonstration of technique – it would be reductive to suggest otherwise – these ideas don’t lead the listener to believe they’re melding into any greater vision.

“Pt. 4”’s bees-in-the-bonnet drone echoes the controlled distortion of “Pt. 1,” but the piece that caught my attention was the third, where organs are scissored and refracted, synths reach for the heavens, and a droning bass-pulse and accompanying, almost muted kick-drum heartbeat set the pace. Around the seven-minute mark, the soundscape is supplemented with the gurgling notes of what sounds like a bass clarinet. By nine minutes or so, the thing is positively shimmering, though also resolved and even mournful. It’s a pretty astounding progression of motifs.  But it’s the exception, not the rule.

Sharp clearly is a gifted composer; he has a knack for placing the right thing in the right space, and his sounds, however disjointed, elicit an emotional response. But, as a songwriter, a presenter of compositions standing on their own, he is like that not-so-exacting painting: initiated well after many drafts but, in the end, slightly askew. – Justin Vellucci, Swordfish, Feb. 21, 2018

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