Pattern recognition runs deep in the human psyche. Spotting patterns allowed our ancestors to survive. Whether we are driving a car or playing a video game, we borrow their skill every day. We can’t turn it off. We stare at the clouds and familiar forms start to emerge. We look at a roulette wheel, convinced there’s more to see than random chance. Like the rest of us, artists are continually detecting and reacting to patterns. A new album from Samuel Sharp helps us appreciate the beauty of this process.
As a composer, producer, and instrumentalist, Sharp created a handful of electronic EPs with touches of organic sound. Now working under his own name, Sharp has simplified his palette to great effect. Patterns Various is an album of solo saxophone, with basic augmentations including reverb and delay peddles. As the track titles suggest, each track is inspired by an observed pattern, from the movement of a swing to a murmuration of starlings. Of course, every reaction forms part of a pattern itself. The listener joins Sharp in recreational pattern detection, the sounds creating celebratory shapes just like maypole dances and exploding fireworks.
On some tracks, Sharp’s saxophone turns tight spirals. The echoed notes chase the original melodies, catching sight of them before Sharp zips off and loops back. These bright spirographs open into larger, more ponderous circles, like networks of pathways leading us through closely coiled thickets. “Catching Leaves” is a standout track, beginning in layered tones like wind through branches. As the leaves fall in staccato motifs, funky toadstools arrange themselves in fairy rings. They groove to jazz, before vanishing in a cloud of spores.
Not all patterns are festive or sprightly. “Winter’s Approach” captures the gradual movement of the seasons. Throughout the album, there are moments where the saxophone melodies turn melancholy and reflective, the pedal effects dimming to a reverberating underswell. New ideas drop into these contemplative waters, creating ripples across the surface. Another highlight is “Longdown Hill”, where melodies and their echoes intertwine. As the original and imitation become interchangeable, feelings of wistful nostalgia emerge from a modular assemblage of notes.
As pattern diviners, we might trace the elements of jazz, minimalism, and electronic design criss-crossing in Sharp’s music. We also find satisfying symmetry in hearing the same thing twice. The result is not déjà vu, but a dialogue between the musician and his shadow. Each sonic question is met with another question. After all, we come to great music for patterns, not for answers. (Samuel Rogers)