I/S/M is a very early release of Elliott Sharp's and one of his best, the recording that defined to a great extent the persona and direction he would pursue for the remainder of the '80s. Coming out of the post-punk/free jazz ethos that included bands like Material (Bill Laswell appears here) and DNA, Sharp was especially attracted to severe, almost "primitive" rhythms, low horns (trombones and bass clarinets predominate), and harsh guitar work that often sounded wonderfully contradictory to a given piece, splintering out in unpredictable directions. His bands were able to generate a raw energy as they slipped in and out of regular patterns. The musicians didn't so much solo as coruscate over the nubs of rhythm, encrusting them with an eerie glow. In addition to Laswell, Sharp made the inspired choices of trombonist Art Baron (who worked with everyone from Laurie Anderson to the Mingus Big Band) and, most deliciously, the sublime and, at the time, unheralded cornetist Olu Dara, a valued member of ensembles led by David Murray, Henry Threadgill, and others. Their presence provides a crucial blues element that prevents any possibility of the music stumbling into art rock territory. Together with Sharp and a trio of fine percussionists, they make I/S/M one of the very best albums to emerge from the downtown New York scene of the early '80s. Highly recommended.
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