Ask the Ages is Sonny Sharrock's masterpiece, and sadly it was also the last album he would record before his premature death in 1994. It's the most challenging jazz work he recorded as a leader, and it's the clearest expression of his roots as a jazz player, drawing heavily on Coltrane's modal post-bop and concepts of freedom. To that end, Sharrock reunites with Coltrane's old cohort, Pharoah Sanders, who featured Sharrock on his wild Tauhid and Izipho Zam LPs; what's more, Coltrane Quartet drummer Elvin Jones is on hand, as is young bassist Charnett Moffett. It's far and away the best, most adventurous, and most jazz-oriented backing group Sharrock recorded with during his comeback, and the results are breathtaking. The compositions are all Sharrock originals, and all six have utterly memorable themes that often recall the sweeping lyricism of Sanders' most spiritual '60s works. For his part, Sanders responds with some of his most ferocious playing in years, and Sharrock sounds vitally energized by the tenor's screeching passion. There isn't a wasted moment on the album, but particular highlights include the fiery, majestic opener, "Promises Kept," the searching ballad "Who Does She Hope to Be?," and the awe-inspiring blast-fest "Many Mansions," where Sharrock and Sanders both reach a blistering pinnacle. Listeners coming to Sharrock from rock & roll or his Space Ghost Coast to Coast soundtrack might find that Ask the Ages isn't the nonstop skronk-fest they expected; it's his overall musicality that's on display, but there's still plenty that will scare the bejeezus out of timid jazzbos. It's a tragedy that Sharrock didn't get much of a chance to expand on this achievement, but thankfully it exists in the first place.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey