At the Crossroads: Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet bridges the East and West on its debut


Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet

Around the Worlds Quartet: Mike List, Igor Houwat, Dr. Henrik Karapetyan, and Dave Sharp.

The Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet is like Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge: a sturdy gateway between the East and West.

The group -- Sharp (bass), Dr. Henrik Karapetyan (violin), Igor Houwat (oud), and Mike List (percussion) -- transports listeners through Arabic, Jewish, Eastern European, Indian, and American music with reliable strength on its new album, Delta.

Sharp is a busy bandleader who heads up Klezmephonic (klezmer), RAKA (African fusion), and various sizes of world music and jazz groups, from duos to the Secret 7. The Worlds Quartet came together through a chance meeting when Sharp sat in with Wisaal, a Mediterranean fusion group out of Lansing. 

“I subbed on bass with Wisaal for a small number of gigs, where I met Mike List and Igor Houwat and really connected with their Arabic fusion sound,” Sharp said. “Igor also played a few shows with Dave Sharp’s Secret 7 and recorded oud tracks for the second DSS7 release, Worlds. Igor, Mike, and I played a few dates as a trio, and one night we invited [Klezmephonic co-leader] Henrik to sit in with us. Once that happened, we all had a “Wow!” moment and decided to assemble as a quartet.”

The Worlds Quartet recorded Delta over three sessions at two studios: two at Troubadour Studios in Lansing and one at Willis Sound in Willis.

“We chose Willis because I had been mixing my Kenya recording project there and really liked the vibe of the big room,” Sharp said of the relatively new studio in a hundred-year-old rural church. “I had also seen some cool video coming out of Willis shot by Toko Shiiki and wanted to try a full-on video shoot in that space.”

Sharp and Co. have released three studio-performance videos from Delta that give good insight into the group’s remarkable chemistry. But live performances are where the Worlds Quartet shines, feeding off the crowd and each other like men on a mission. The band has a slew of live performances scheduled, but the show on Wednesday, May 23 at Old Town Tavern in Ann Arbor will be at the Worlds Quartet’s cozy second home. Sharp created the venerable restaurant’s weekly jazz series, which showcases some of the region’s brightest talents.

“The Old Town Wednesday night jazz series has been going for three years, and it came about by the very supportive approach taken by the owners and staff, and by the very supportive attitude of the musicians who play there,” Sharp said. “Musicians come out to hear other musicians play, and it’s nicely expanded the downtown live music scene.”

As a student at the University of Michigan, Sharp fell hard for jazz, but it was the fusion of improvisation and worldly sounds that really captured the bassist’s attention.

“I’ve been listening to ‘world music’ for quite some time now, and was heavily influenced by what John Coltrane did with Indian and African music influences, as well as what Charles Mingus did with Latin music and epic arrangements,” Sharp said. “When I lived in San Francisco, I was able to see Ali Akbar Khan and Zakir Hussein and countless other Indian musicians in person, performing at concerts and workshops. Same with Hassan Hakmoun (Morocco), Ornette Coleman, John Tchicai, Hamza El Din, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For a short time, I studied music with Salamat Ali Khan, who lived off Geary St. in San Francisco and is the uncle of Nusrat.”

Lucky for us, Sharp, a native Detroiter, moved back to Michigan and has become an invaluable organizer, supporter, and player on the region’s jazz and world-music scenes, with Delta being his latest contribution. Here’s Sharp’s track-by-track rundown of the album, which includes seven tunes plus a radio edit of the first track.

“B7” - “The ‘B’ stands for Bulgarian and the ‘7’ stands for 7/4, the time signature used throughout the tune. Henrik came back from a tour of Europe and was jamming with some Bulgarian musicians in a hotel, and brought back this Bulgarian melody in 7/4 and we all liked it. The take on the album is our own arrangement of this traditional tune.”

“Aziza” - “This is an Egyptian belly-dance tune composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab. The Aziza are also a supernatural forest dwelling race in West African mythology that are known for giving practical and spiritual advice to people.”

“Mishra Shiva Ranjani” - “This is an Indian folk tune that I learned from John Churchville and Meeta Banerjee while playing bass in the Indian fusion band Sumkali. It’s a blend of a few different ragas, sounds great on sitar, and we really liked the sound of this melody played on oud and violin.”

“Miserlou” - This is kind of like the ‘Johnny B. Goode’ equivalent in world-music circles, played in many different styles all around the Mediterranean region, not to mention in the opening of Pulp Fiction.

“Desert Sky” - “This is an original composition written by [myself] and saxophonist Chris Kaercher, which was influenced by the work of Thierry Robin, a French guitarist who fuses Spanish, Moroccan, and Gypsy sounds.”

“Afro Blue” - “The only ‘jazz standard’ on this collection of music, written by Cuban percussionist Mongo Santamaria. This track features the world-percussion textures of Mike List laying down some dense 6/4 grooves.”

“Hicaz Mandira” - “A traditional Turkish tune in 7/4 introduced to me by Igor and Mike while playing in Wisaal. Like most ensembles, we worked out our own arrangement of this tune to visit a few dynamic feels.”

Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.

Dave Sharp Worlds Quartet's upcoming concerts include:
Fri. May 18, 8-10 pm | Johnny's Speakeasy, 2923 Dexter Rd., Ann Arbor
Wed. May 23, 8-10 pm | Old Town Tavern, 122 W. Liberty Rd., Ann Arbor
Thu. May 31, 8-10 pm | Rumpus Room, 510 S. Main St., Chelsea
Fri. June 1, 8-10 pm | UrbanBeat Event Center, 1213 Turner St., Lansing
Wed. June 6, 7:30-9 pm | Kalamazoo Bach Festival, Dalton Theatre, 1200 Academy St., Kalamazoo
Thu. June 7, 7-8:30 pm | Riverfront Park, Water St., South Haven
Thu. June 21, 7 pm | Top of the Park/Ann Arbor Summer Fest
Sun. July 15, 4 pm | Concert of Colors, Detroit