CriticalJazz.com

Zen and the art of improvisation. The human chemistry of abstract creation where limitations of form and function are cast aside for soulful interpretation of a deconstructed melody by the soloist and all those that choose to participate.
That and this is a really cool disc!
More than a jazz disc, Sean Nowell and The Kung-Fu Masters is a multi-media presentation of positive energy and the transference through a plethora of means further explained in a recent interview you can check out here:
But let us focus on the recording shall we? Nowell is a free spirit in every sense of the word and this sense of harmonic abandonment and lyrical intensity comes through more pronounced in this particular release than any other to date. Jimi Hendrix tunes were created for free interpretation and Nowell kicks this release off with Crosstown Traffic. While intense there is a deceptively subtle zen like quality of less is more that permeates not just this tune but the release as a whole. Old school tunes with a contemporary twist, the sonic circle being made complete. While there is a conceptual base to the recording there are no overt political statements, no causes to fight, and no battles attempted to be one. Similar artists with the majority leaning towards the slightly more contemporary pick jazz as a springboard for everything from racial intolerance to political activism. The Kung-Fu Masters is a springboard for the mind.

The band is as righteous and tight as they come with phenomenal performances laid down by trombonist Michael Dease, rising tumpet star Brad Mason with the rhythm section rounded off with bassist Evan Marien and drummer Marko Djordjevic. The keyboard work of Art Hirahara along with the organ and keyboard work of Adam Klipple have some referring to this particular sound as "jazztronica." I tend to shy away from labels as I remember the scene from Back To The Future when Chuck Berry's cousin Marvin holds up the phone with Chuck listening and says, "You know that new sound you been lookning for? Well listen to this!" The same applies to Sean Nowell and The Kung-Fu Masters. Outside the Hendrix cover the rest of the ten song set are Nowell originals and perhaps his finest and most innovative work to date. "For All Intensive Purposes" has a decidedly electronic middle eastern flair pulled together with more traditional post bop found here in the west. "Can Do Man" is a reaffirmation of the positive energy and spirit the exudes from this formidable ensemble cast of characters. Fortified with funk and an undercurrent of articulated syncopation that is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of Chicago.


Diversity in soundscapes with a contemporary twist of flavor and pop. Jazz, funk, jazztronica? No label works perfectly here. The labeling of the music is up to the listener. I hear a myriad of influences from Middle Eastern to British Acid Jazz and beyond. At time the ambient quality one may associate with jazztronica will make an appearance but I do not necessarily this was the specific harmonic path this group was intending to cross. The break down to a pure funk laden jam has Nowell at the very top of his game. Foot to the floor originals, breaking the rules and creating a new energy is indeed pushing the music forward.

A remarkable recording on virtually every level one can think of.

The Midwest Jazz Record

Breath taking electric jazz/funk with the sax man giving as much time to the B3 as he does to his own axe. Kicking it with a funked up treatment that turns Hendrix on his head, the good vibes continue to flow in non-stop fashion as the party rolls on and gate crashers try to work their way in. A super sonic stew that really gets the blood flowing, Nowell finds himself on surer footing with each new release. A tasty, smoking winner throughout.

All About Jazz

The Kung-Fu Masters isn't simply another album for tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell; it's the recorded coming out party for a band and concept that he's been tweaking and promoting for years. Nowell has been field testing this project in New York jazz spots like 55 Bar, and his website contains various recorded performances of the group at the club dating back to 2009, but this marks the first official outing from this forward-thinking beast of a band.

The Kung-Fu Masters marry funk with post-modern jazz and electronica elements to create an offbeat, beat-heavy blend of music that's brilliantly propelled by drummer Marko Djordjevic. He comes across as a mutated Mike Clark, capable of delivering Headhunters-worthy grooves and imitating the ever-looping beats that serve as the heartbeat for dance floor mixes; he may not be the front-and-center star of this date, but the success of this music rests squarely in his hands.

The rest of the band—which includes two keyboardists, a bassist and two other horns that keep Nowell company in the front line—does a fine job navigating its way through the saxophonist's music. Bassist Evan Marien is completely in sync with Djordjevic, and keyboardists Art Hirahara and Adam Klipple (who also works the organ) alternate between delivering earthly delights and otherworldly sound bites. The horn section functions together like a modern dance club version of the JBs, nailing tasty riffs into place over the rhythm section, but its members also get the chance to individually break away on occasion and stand apart from the crowd.

Futurism finds its way into most of these pieces, yet the music speaks to the ears of today. Nowell's electro-acoustic creations skirt normal jazz conventions while fully adhering to the core philosophy of jazz as an all-absorbing, ever-evolving entity. The Kung-Fu Masters seem like a band that would embrace pianist Herbie Hancock and Squarepusher, rather than viewing them as diametrically opposed forces in music. Maybe that makes this jazz for the rave generation or, perhaps, it just marks this as compelling stuff that doesn't need to be placed into a labeled bin.

Music and More

Saxophonist Sean Nowell raised some eyebrows last year with an excellent mainstream post-bop jazz album called Stockholm Swinigin'. This new album approaches things from a different direction, leaving the world of buttoned down bop behind to import aspects of fusion, funk and pop into the mix. Along with Nowell on tenor saxophone, the Kung-Fu Masters are: Brad Mason on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, Art Hirahara and Adam Klipple on keyboards, Evan Marien on bass and Marko Djordjevic on drums. Jimi Hendrix's rock anthem "Crosstown Traffic" is a highlight of the album with the horns replacing the amplified and distorted guitar riffs of the original recording, and the music barrels along at a breakneck pace. "In The Shikshteesh" allows for interesting work from the keyboard players, from synth to electric piano, they frame the sound of the music. There is a cool retro 1970's funk vibe to "The Outside World" with punchy horns and dirty sounding keyboards conjuring up the grit of a city at the and of a busy day. Fans of the music that the late Donald Byrd recorded with the Mizell Brothers in the 1970's will be right at home here. Some of the irreverence in the packaging of this disc might be a little misleading. This is not a frivolous album, but a set of music that draws from wildly diverse influences like martial arts movies, comic books and video games to push Nowell's music into a new and unusual direction. Purists may turn away, but it is their loss, as the group is never disrespectful to the history of jazz but rather looks far afield for inspiration and material, and plays it an accessible and forthright manner. I hope the band has a chance to do some form of multi-media project along these lines, that would be a lot of fun to see.

Something Else!

Sean Nowell is a name I remember from a couple of years ago when sizing up his last album Stockholm Swingin’ (2011), a snappy live encounter of solid, straight ahead jazz performed by both American and Swedish musicians in a small combo band. The Kung-Fu Masters is an about face from the trad direction Nowell went on Stockholm, propagating instead a brand of funk-jazz with one foot far in the past and another one far in the future. But other than the fact that it’s jazz, it could hardly be stylistically farther apart from the European date.

Though it’s a bit of a shock going from the prior record to the current one, followers of this tenor saxophonist, composer and bandleader were probably not surprised at all. Nowell’s career has always careened from one corner of jazz to another, and he’d already been trying out the new style performing with his Kung-Fu Masters band in local NYC clubs. Nowell’s brand of funky jazz-rock generally pits the electric keyboards of Art Hirahara and Adam Klipple along with electric bassist Even Marien and drummer Marko Djordjevic against the formidable horn section of Nowell, trombonist Michael Dease and trumpet player Brad Mason. I describe it as two opposing forces because that rhythm section is often moving between 70s style fusion and 21st century electronica while the horn section roots itself firmly in the soulful hard bop tradition of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers or the 60s version of the Jazz Crusaders. Even when those horns are run through effects pedals.

When you think about it, amping up the brass is old school,; Eddie Harris was electrifying his sax way back when in ’67 and Nowell’s plugged in sax goes great with the ’68 hit “Crosstown Traffic” that begins the album, as the bank o’ horns fill up the huge space that Hendrix’s guitar originally filled. And then for good measure, an original, dizzying horn figure is tagged on the end.

Nowell’s own tunes, which make up the rest of the fare on The Kung-Fu Masters, often get even more adventurous than that, but he stubbornly maintains his grip on the subtleties, spontaneity and swing of jazz. “In The Shikshteesh” has a chugging groove of its own, and Dease, whose made his name as a straight ahead trombonist of the highest order, is able to negotiate that groove like a champ. Nowell’s sax is modified to sound like an accordion, alternately playing an unadorned sax like Michael Brecker. That mutated chord sax shows up again on “Mantis Style” a song with knotty progressions locked in with knotty rhythms and a spunky Rhodes solo. On the rambunctious “Can Do Man,” Dease and Mason get their horns tricked up with circuitry, too, in a jerky ride through a multitude of motifs, from JB sweaty funk to a smooth slow funk vibe and spacey groove where Nowell and Dease’s alien horns engage in call and response.

The album contains some jazztronica moments, too as the one that begins “The 55th Chamber,” but theB3 and the horns are all old school funk. “Uncrumplable” boasts an electronics video arcade groove, complete with a Pac man synth solo. And still, it’s Dease’s bubbling trombone solo that’s the track’s highlight. A classic rock bass line form the basis for “Song Of The Southland” a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a 70s rock-jazz record. Horns seem to fly around Marien’s vamp, and the organ swells in and out to modulate the undercurrent of harmony. Mason’s searching and soaring trumpet solo tops it off.

Following up on such a friendly, by-the-book mainstream jazz with this attitude filled electric funk-jazz record might have caused my ears to do a double-take, but it became clear that Sean Nowell knew what he was doing, because he did it so well. Yes, from a guy (and a record label) who can make such good acoustic modern jazz records is one of the better electric fusion records to come out so far this year.

 

 

Knocks from The Underground

"...enough mind-bogglingly elaborate sounds over the course of an hour
to satisfy a mutant millipede with ears in lieu of legs...ranging from
creepy organ dissonance to funky “wah-wah” flickers to vintage
electric piano flourishes and mercurial solos."  "An eclectic update
on the more cerebral music that emerged from the 1970's, such as
progressive rock and Sweetnighter-era Weather Report. While the nearly
anarchic harmony suggested free jazz, the boundaries between sections
and Indian/math-rock-like timings show clean synchronization."
John Engelman - Knocks from the Underground

Sean Nowell Electronic Press Kit Part 1

Sean Nowell Electronic Press Kit Part 2

Press Quotes:

 

STOCKHOLM SWINGIN'

 

Swingin' is definitely the best way to describe Sean Nowell's third album on Posi-Tone, Stockholm Swingin'. It's a well balanced and straight-ahead killer set from the Alabama native now New Yorker.

Establishing himself as a solid performer and laying in a steady stream of clean accessible rhythms in this live setting, makes Stockholm Swingin' an enjoyable listen and enticing venture for every music fan.

Stretching and flexing notes like Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins, Nowell sets a fire in a live session.

...it feels like a Kenny Burrell/John Coltrane session or a flavourful early George Benson album.

Nowell's own "NY Vibe" is cool and bluesy at times. It really does spell out New York for those of us who have experienced the scene for years. A great little number that even my kid was flipping out over.

It's a "burst out of the speakers and spell the presence of an real entertainer" performance from Nowell.

...a buoyancy and vitality that blisters with life.

With Stockholm Swingin' you get the feeling if you've been listening to Sean Nowell for awhile and that he really let the wheels off the wagon and just went for it this time. This is a live session that works on many levels. It's perfect for many traditionalists and a nice opening for new fans.

This is the sound of modern standard jazz. It is good for all. Enjoy...
 

-JAZZ WRAP

 

 

Real swing knows no geographic or ethnic bounds. 

Recorded live in Stockholm and featuring NYC Tenor Saxophonist Sean Nowell and Drummer Joe Abba with Swedish Guitarist Fredrik Olsson, Pianist Leo Lindberg, and Bassist Lars Ekman the cut contains all the groove and pocket you’d expect from a band of New Yorkers.

...the leader demonstrates his deft way with a ballad on a sublime reading of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.”

Nowell’s “NY Vibe” is suitably aggressive and relentlessly swinging, with some pure burn from guitar and tenor sax.

Bill Milkowski - JAZZ TIMES

 

From the opening notes of Blues On The Corner to the final audience applause following Walking The Path, Sean Nowell does not disappoint.

Nowell possesses a big, beefy, traditional tenor sound reminiscent of early Sonny Rollins and other legendary tenor saxophonists of the 20th century. His hard-swinging lines on his opening choruses of Blues On The Corner pay homage to virtually every tenor man who came before this relatively young jazz ambassador. 

Nowell’s group sound completely at home with the blues.

Sean Nowell’s tenor playing shines brightly on his solo taken just before the final chorus. His lines are original, clever and technical little gems to behold.

A classic and yet contemporary sound of New York jazz.

Nowell crafts a wonderfully creative improvisation. His bending, swooping tenor here showcases yet another stylistic side of this very competent tenor man.

Nowell solos with ferocity. His angry tenor pushes forward, culminating in a flurry of alternate fingerings taking him high into the altissimo. The climax of his solo comes in the middle, gradually winding down on the final chorus and the final head.

Nowell weaves in and out of tonality, as does the rhythm section behind him. It is clear the ensemble is having a blast.

Stockholm Swingin’” is a delightful example of traditional, straight-ahead jazz, beautiful produced by Marc Free and Posi-Tone Records.

Sitting back and listening, this writer can’t help but want to pick the horn and join in.


-Saxshed.com

 

 

...the feel of a mid-’60s Blue Note session is definitely present and strong, it’s Hank Mobley who’s most likely to come to mind when listening to Nowell.  

His playing on Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” is thick and buzzy, recalling Coleman Hawkins, and the band’s backing is sparse, yet powerful, holding strength in reserve to allow the leader to blow lengthy variations on the blues.

...with some very thoughtful, almost Wayne Shorter-esque (the Wayne Shorter of 1964) playing from Nowell....

Stockholm Swingin’ is a good, solid live document of a band that knows how to work together and has good taste in material.

Phil Freeman - BURNING AMBULANCE

 


Gritty sounds but oh-so-fine!  "Stockholm Swingin'" satisfies on a number of levels, especially in the way the quintet of musicians work together.  They sound like they're having great fun and, no matter the language, that translates into a fine listening experience.

Richard B. Kamins - STEP TEMPEST

 


What makes the sound of Nowell’s tenor saxophone so appealing and refreshing is that he doesn’t seem to push it to squeeze out emotion but rather lets the horn and his powerful personality speak direct emotional truths.

...Nowell squawks and howls but with intelligence and logic....

The time spent together makes them sound like a seasoned ensemble and the intimate recording is perfect for this in-the-moment quintet. 

Donald Elfman - THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD

 

 

A tenor sax man from Alabama that managed to find that corner on 52nd St where the southern migration brought the church to the big apple showing he knows how to swing it like a real first call player.

....a straight ahead set that is on the money throughout.

- Chris Spector - MIDWEST RECORD

 

 

On Stockholm Swingin’, the tenor saxophonist’s third Posi-Tone release, he stays in recognizably straight-ahead territory, bringing his impressively wide-ranging and imaginative tenor sound to a live quintet recording from the Swedish capital’s Glenn Miller Café....

The quintet sounds cool, confident and swinging....

...a beautifully-crafted album, with fine contributions from each of the quintet’s members. The quality of the live recording is also superb....

Bruce Lindsay - All About Jazz

 

 

 

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THE SEEKER

 


"The Seeker" must be considered a candidate as one of the finest jazz releases of the year." Fred Adams - HONEST TUNE MAGAZINE (Aug 4, 2009)

"After getting a copy of this disc it is clearly up for running as a top ten in my collection for 2009." Christopher Lams - JAZZ INSIDE NEW YORK (Aug 4, 2009)


"Playing with the sophistication of a John Coltrane and the grace of a Lee Konitz, Nowell unfurls the sax for intense tenor work dominating the band and delivering an excellent session of straight ahead contemporary jazz elevating “The Seeker” to an elite category." Edward Blanco - EJAZZ NEWS

"The Seeker's predominant vibe is a modern day re-energization of the East Coast hard bop of the 1950s and 1960s.  The result is a chili-hot stew of galvanizing intensity."  Christopher Lams - JAZZ INSIDE NEW YORK (Aug 4, 2009)

"Nowell strikes a chord with these high-impact pieces, topped off by his memorable compositions and cleverly engineered arrangements. He differentiates himself from the norm, throughout the often-captivating sequence of musical events, brimming with fresh sounds and the frontline's zealous soloing breakouts." Glenn Astarita - JAZZREVIEW.COM

"...a precociously talented straight ahead player, with a gritty and exuberant approach displaying traces of such illustrious forebears as Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Michael Brecker." Chris May -ALL ABOUT JAZZ ONLINE (Aug 20, 2009)

"The Seeker is like a Mariano Rivera fastball: it flies right down Broadway, daring anyone to try and lay a bat on it. That won't happen, because there's nothing to do but nod in admiration as the ball flies by, straight and true." J Hunter - ALL ABOUT JAZZ ONLINE (Aug 4, 2009)

“Sean Nowell is my preferred kind of tenor player: quick, smart, tough, and counter intuitive. He is the real deal” - Thomas Conrad

"Nowell is a monster tenor saxophonist from Alabama who is slowly taking hold of the New York City scene.  I can’t overstate how important to take hold of a crowd right out of the gate and Nowell did just that. He had me! With extremely refreshing compositions and chops that would make Tony Atlas proud - I would advise the New York City jazzbo to keep an eye out on Mr. Nowell." Christopher Lams - JAZZ INSIDE NEW YORK (Aug 4, 2009)

"Nowell's studio focus has been on straight ahead performance, first with Firewerks (Positone 2007), and now with The Seeker, on which he moves between the fierce and forceful and the lush and voluptuous to devastating effect."

"...the muscular balladeering of Dexter Gordon comes to mind." Chris May - ALL ABOUT JAZZ ONLINE (Aug 20, 2009)

"Sean Nowell unleashes his second project for the Posi-Tone Records with a command performance in a fiery passion-filled eight-piece barn-burner of a recording with “The Seeker.” "Nowell's hearty tone and fluid delivery is built upon lots of gusto and soaring lines." Glenn Astarita -JAZZREVIEW.COM 


"The Seeker" finds tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell traveling across a vast harmonic spectrum to a place filled with intriguing melodies and rhythmic world beats. With roots based in the deep South, Nowell's background is quite diverse compared to that of most members of the New York jazz circuit." Fred Adams - HONEST TUNE MAGAZINE (Aug 4, 2009)


"The group dynamic is a powerful force in jazz. Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell recognizes that with The Seeker, a set of songs that demonstrate his abilities as a leader, songwriter and soloist, but doesn't ignore those around him." Woodrow Wilkins - ALL ABOUT JAZZ ONLINE (Aug 23, 2009)

 

 

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FIREWERKS:


Tenor Saxophonist/Composer Sean Nowell fuses introspective melodies, darkly hued harmonies and angular rhythmic structures to create a sound that "...has succeeded at melding, morphing and mixing the best of Blue Note-era small group nirvana with the Headhunters’ pocket and vibe, evolving it to Right Now.” Philip DiPietro -ALL ABOUT JAZZ ONLINE


“Cerebral music, but played with soul and feeling; ballads that somehow build into frenetic climaxes.” - THE MANHATTAN TIMES


“Nowell's first solo shows his big-tenor influences and up-to-the minute chops, punctuated by tasteful over- blowing running perfectly counter to the gutbucket jam, then growing Brecker-esquely dense.” Philip DiPietro -ALL ABOUT JAZZ ONLINE


“…building to a deft, robust tenor sax solo by Sean Nowell” - THE BOSTON GLOBE


“Nowell plays with a mellow tone, swings hard, and sidles up to Coltranian heights….” -THE MANHATTAN TIMES

----------------------------------------------------- FULL CD REVIEWS: STOCKHOLM SWINGIN' Real swing knows no geographic or ethnic bounds, as this set’s cooking take on McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” proves. Recorded live in Stockholm and featuring Alabaman tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell with Swedish sidemen, the cut contains all the groove and pocket you’d expect from a band of New Yorkers. Nowell and co. add a Middle Eastern flavor on a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Amad” (from his Far East Suite), and the leader demonstrates his deft way with a ballad on a sublime reading of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” Guitarist Fredrik Olsson and Nowell also turn in scintillating solos on the Swedish folksong “Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna” (more familiarly known as “Dear Old Stockholm”). And Nowell’s “NY Vibe” is suitably aggressive and relentlessly swinging, with some pure burn from guitar and tenor sax.

Well, swingin' is definitely the best way to describe Sean Nowell's third album on Posi-Tone, Stockholm Swingin'. It's a well balanced and straight-ahead killer set from the Alabama native now New Yorker. Establishing himself as a solid performer and laying in a steady stream of clean accessible rhythms in this live setting, makes Stockholm Swingin' an enjoyable listen and enticing venture for every music fan. Stretching and flexing notes like Dexter Gordon or Sonny Rollins, Nowell sets a fire in a live session. More scintillating than his previous two releases only in the sense that in the live setting you really get a better feel for the band, the arrangements and Nowell as a performer. "Ack Varmeland, Du Skona" (more known loosely as "Dear Old Stockholm" for the rest of us) is smokin'. With the usual infectious top-tapping notes delivered beautifully from Lindberg and Nowell, this classic number takes on rich lively tone. Juxtaposed with the great performance from Fredrik Olsson it feels like a Kenny Burrell/John Coltrane session or a flavourful early George Benson album. Nowell's own "NY Vibe" is cool and bluesy at times. It really does spell out New York for those of us who have experienced the scene for years. A great little number that even my kid was flipping out over. Nowell pulls a lot of punches with these original compositions. His playing is bold and has a lot of strength. "NY Vibe" has a lot more in common with his previous record The Seeker. It's a burst out of speakers and spell a presence of an real entertainer. The entire quintet set a real pace and impact on "Sweet Night", written by Lingberg and Olsson. Nowell allows the guitarist to take to the fore but the rest of the group are in unison adding stylistic touches that standout in their own way along the path. Nowell rejoins the group just in time to tear into the mid section; adding a buoyancy and vitality that blisters with life. With Stockholm Swingin' you get the feeling if you've been listening to Sean Nowell for awhile and that he really let the wheels off the wagon and just went for it this time. This is a live session that works on many levels. It's perfect for many traditionalists and a nice opening for new fans. This is the sound of modern standard jazz. It is good for all. Enjoy...

Sean Nowell has lent his talents to a diverse array of bands including Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra and his own Kung-Fu Masters, working across numerous musical styles. OnStockholm Swingin’, the tenor saxophonist’s third Posi-Tone release, he stays in recognizably straight-ahead territory, bringing his impressively wide-ranging and imaginative tenor sound to a live quintet recording from the Swedish capital’s Glenn Miller Café in November, 2010. Nowell and drummer Joe Abba, a longtime musical collaborator, are joined by a trio of Swedish performers: guitarist Frederik Olsson; bassist Lars Ekman; and the exciting teenage pianist, Leo Lindberg. The quintet sounds cool, confident and swinging on a mix of standards and originals. The set opens with the relaxed shuffle of McCoy Tyner’s “Blues On The Corner,” an easygoing number characterized by warm and melodic solos from Nowell and Lindberg. Duke Ellington’s “Amad” starts with a slinky groove from Ekman and Abba, with Lindberg adding to the feel with some well-placed chords as Nowell and Olsson contribute a deftly-played melody line. The third classic tune is a smoky, early hours version of Billy Strayhorn’s balladic “Chelsea Bridge,” showcasing Nowell’s evocative tenor sound. “Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna” has an immediate familiarity to it—but then it’s better known as “Dear Old Stockholm,” recorded by a host of jazz stars from Stan Getz and Miles Davis to Paul Chambers. Nowell is again in fine form, building a dynamic solo. The originals sit neatly alongside the more established tunes. Nowell’s “NY Vibe” has, as its title suggests, a more up-tempo, urgent, feel than most of the album, although Olsson’s fluid solo does bring a touch of calm after Nowell’s more frenetic tenor. Lindberg and Olsson’s “Sweet Night” is another up-tempo number, gaining its drive from Abba’s sparky percussion and featuring Ollsson with another bright, melodic guitar solo. Abba’s “Walking The Path” is an impressive tune, filled with melodic and rhythmic ideas that give the number a more spiritual vibe than the rest of the collection. This is a beautifully-crafted album, with fine contributions from each of the quintet’s members. The quality of the live recording is also superb—congratulations to producer Marc Free and engineer Nick O’Toole for achieving such a great sound, capturing the mood of a live gig with the acoustic clarity of a studio recording. Bruce Lindsay - All About Jazz
From the opening notes of Blues On The Corner to the final audience applause following Walking The Path, Sean Nowell does not disappoint. Nowell possesses a big, beefy, traditional tenor sound reminiscent of early Sonny Rollins and other legendary tenor saxophonists of the 20th century. His hard-swinging lines on his opening choruses of Blues On The Corner pay homage to virtually every tenor man who came before this relatively young jazz ambassador. The second cut Ack Varmeland, Du Skona; a traditional Swedish melody features Fredrik Olsson first on guitar. Abba, Ekman and Lindberg provide a lush and swinging background over which Olsson stretches. Nowell solos secondly with ferocity not previously heard. His angry tenor pushes forward, culminating in a flurry of alternate fingerings taking him high into the altissimo. The climax of his solo comes in the middle, gradually winding down on the final chorus and the final head. Harlem Woman is an aptly titled, sassy and swinging tune. Olsson’s guitar and Nowell’s tenor play the melody and it’s predominant bluesy turns in perfect unison. As with the opening tune, Nowell’s group sound completely at home with the blues – as well as the subtly modulating bridge found here. Lindberg solos first on piano, showing his own familiarity with the traditional jazz language. Abba and Ekman swing on as Olsson tastefully allows the trio some space. Sean Nowell’s tenor playing shines brightly on his solo taken just before the final chorus. His lines are original, clever and technical little gems to behold. Ellington’s Amad begins with Abba on the drums, then Ekman on bass, setting up this somewhat eerie sounding modal piece. In gradual succession, Lindberg joins them on piano, followed by the melodic statement by Olsson and Nowell. The sound at the onset of Nowell’s tenor solo is sparse and staccato. He and Olsson trade spirited ideas over a somewhat static vamp. Abba solos dominantly as well. The spirit and nature of this tune is reminiscent of some older ECM recordings and Nowell seems to approach this tune as a young Jan Garbarek may have. At any rate, it is quite a departure from the more tradition sound of the remaining cuts on Stockholm Swingin’. NY Vibe is precisely what the name implies. A classic and yet contemporary sound of New York jazz. Despite the reference, Nowell at times reminds me in a small way of Ernie Watt’s current West Coast sound and style. Olsson also solos nicely on guitar. Billy Strayhorn’s classic Chelsea Bridge features Sean Nowell’s husky lower register on the melody. Again, as on Harlem Woman, Nowell crafts a wonderfully creative improvisation. His bending, swooping tenor here showcases yet another stylistic side of this very competent tenor man. Sweet Night displays the traditional, straight-ahead jazz sound this group handles so well. Olsson solos first over the swing, then Latin groove. Sitting back and listening, this writer can’t help but want to pick the horn and join in. A short melodic statement divides the solos between guitar and tenor solo. Nowell then solos over a quasi-New Orleans style Second Street groove. Nowell weaves in and out of tonality, as does the rhythm section behind him. It is clear the ensemble is having a blast. The final track Walking The Path seems a curious choice from a programming standpoint. Its slow, understated manner is not what we ordinarily expect from the closing number. It does, however pick up during the solos by Nowell and Olsson. In the end the group fades to an end rather than going out with a bang. Stockholm Swingin’” is a delightful example of traditional, straight-ahead jazz, beautiful produced by Marc Free and Posi-Tone Records. The new and relatively unknown talent Posi-Tone chooses to showcase continually impresses me. You can find out more about Sean Nowell and other innovative recordings at www.posi-tone.com
For his 3rd Posi-Tone release, tenor saxophonist/composerSean Nowell headed over to Sweden to record “Stockholm Swingin’” live at the Glenn Miller Cafe. Accompanying him on the journey was his New York City bandmate, drummerJoe Abba; despite the last name, he’s not Swedish, but the rest of the quintet is. Leo Lindberg (piano), Fredrik Olsson (guitar) and Lars Ekman (bass) join the American duo to create a pleasant program consisting of several standards, 2 originals by the team of Lindberg and Olsson (they co-lead a band), one each by Nowell and Abba plus a bluesy take on a traditional Swedish tune. The disk opens with the easy loping rhythms of McCoy Tyner’s “Blues On The Corner“, a piece that showcases the smoky tones of Nowell’s tenor, a sound that brings to mind Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. That tone is also evident on the lovely take of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.“ Nowell lets loose on ”Ack Värmeland du Sköna“, the traditional tune that a number of jazz musicians have recorded as “Dear Old Stockholm.” Abba and Ekman do a fine anchoring the rhythm section throughout the CD but especially on “Harlem Woman” (one of the Lindberg/Olsson tunes) and the drummer’s funky “Walking the Path.” For these ears, the highlight of the program is the fine take on Duke Ellington’s “Amad” (from “The Far East Suite.”) The rhythm has the feel of a Randy Weston tune over which the tenor and guitar dance around each with abandon. Gritty sounds but oh-so-fine! “Stockholm Swingin’” satisfies on a number of level, especially in the way the quintet of musicians work together. They sound like they’re having great fun and, no matter the language, that translates into a fine listening experience. For more information, go towww.seannowell.com.
This album features Alabama-born, New York-based tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell and his regular drummer, Joe Abba (whose last name is humorous in this context), joined by three Swedish musicians—guitarist Fredrik Olsson, pianistLeo Lindberg, and bassist Lars Ekman—for a date at the Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm. I’ve heard lots of other live recordings from the Miller, on Ayler Records, but they’ve been of a much freer nature than this album, which offers eight exercises in blues and groove, including compositions by Billy Strayhorn, McCoy Tyner andDuke Ellington, as well as one each by Nowell and Abba and two by the team of Lindberg and Olsson, plus a Swedish standard, “Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna,” the title of which translates to “Warm Land, You’re Comfortable” or something like that (Google was not as helpful as I’d hoped) but is probably better known as “Dear Old Stockholm.” The album kicks off with a slow, intense version of Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner,” which originally appeared on the pianist’s The Real McCoy. This version sounds little like that one, because Nowell has none of the restrained introspection of Joe Henderson, the saxophonist on that album. Indeed, while here and on every other track, the feel of a mid-’60s Blue Note session is definitely present and strong, it’sHank Mobley who’s most likely to come to mind when listening to Nowell—and guitarist Olsson is very much pulling his tricks from Grant Green‘s old bag. Neither of those are bad things, by the way. I’ve long believed Mobley doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves, and I could listen to Green all day long. When the band dips into its own bag of compositions, things get a little more modern, but not much. The nine-minute “Amad,” the longest track on the album by almost 90 seconds, lets Nowell stretch out into some trancelike zones, but never gets weirder than, say, David S. Ware got on Surrendered, his most mainstream-friendly album by far. His playing on Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” is thick and buzzy, recalling Coleman Hawkins, and the band’s backing is sparse, yet powerful, holding strength in reserve to allow the leader to blow lengthy variations on the blues. Pianist Lindberg is an able accompanist, but his playing seems to be more about re-creation than creation. Many European jazz players have twisted the idiom to suit their own temperament; ECM’s roster is full of such artists. Lindberg doesn’t seem to want to inject too much of himself into the music—he plays as though he’s got a mix tape of Blue Note sidemen going in headphones. Ekman and Abba are well attuned to him, and each other, but neither man makes much of an effort to draw attention to himself. Even when swinging hard, as on the opening two cuts and “Sweet Night,” the next-to-last number, they don’t do anything to create individual identities on their instruments. They’re timekeepers, and very good ones, but little more. Also, it’s worth noting that the record has a slight problem with its sequencing—four mid- to uptempo blues grooves in a row to start, a ballad, then the set’s one true burner. That’s all good, but then we get another ballad (“Walking the Path”) to close things out. And it’s a nice ballad, with some very thoughtful, almost Wayne Shorter-esque (the Wayne Shorter of 1964) playing from Nowell, but it ends the album on a somewhat down note, rather than taking the listener out with a bang. Ultimately, Stockholm Swingin’ is a good, solid live document of a band that knows how to work together and has good taste in material. It doesn’t bring much to the table that’s new, but if that’s not a problem for you (and it certainly isn’t always a problem for me), you’ll probably like it a lot. It definitely makes me want to hear more by Sean Nowell, if for no other reason than to find out whether he stretches his imagination more in the studio. Phil Freeman - Burning Ambulance UPDATE: Sean Nowell responded to this review via email, and gave me permission to reprint his comments. Hey Phil, Thanks for the insightfulness. In the last line you mentioned that you were interested if I stretched my imagination more in the studio. I’d love for you to check out my 2nd Posi-Tone release, The Seeker. There’s some really nice original writing and arranging there. Also my 1st installment FireWerks is mainly originals and is still cool after all these years.
Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell’s third CD is an engaging set of music that was recorded live at the Glen Miller Café in Stockholm at the end of a fourteen-day tour through Sweden. Nowell’s band mate in Travis Sullivan’s Björkestra, drummer Joe Abba, and a solid crew of Swedish musicians help to flesh out this riveting set of music which, as the title implies, is built on, but not limited to, swinging selections. The program starts off with a triple shot of swing, but each number differs in slight ways. The loping, swaggering swing of McCoy Tyner’s “Blues On The Corner” opens the set and, as good as it is, it almost seems like a warmup when compared to “Ack Värmeland, Du Sköna,” which follows it. Bassist Lars Ekman launches this song with a hip riff, and Nowell’s soloing is energetic and ecstatic. The third number in this triptych, “Harlem Woman,” is driven by Abba’s firm swing and Ekman’s sturdy bass lines, but the soloists really own this one. Duke Ellington’s “Amad,” from his Far East Suite (RCA, 1967), finally takes the band in a different rhythmic direction, with its Middle Eastern flavor and exotic sound, and a second helping of Ellingtonia, in the form of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge,” features some of Nowell’s most sublime work of the set. While the combination of old world swing stylings, modern jazz, and reworked classics is a formula that’s used time and again on jazz recordings, this set stands out because of the musical chemistry of this group and the way they shape a song. Abba does a fantastic job crafting dynamic/dramatic rhythmic arcs within a piece (“Walking The Path”), and Nowell, whether attached at the hip to guitarist Fredrik Olsson or setting a song ablaze with his saxophone, leads with class and authority. Pianist Leo Lindberg is often the “Yang” to Nowell’s “Yin,” providing chordal responses to the saxophonist’s statements (“Amad”) and countering his modern-leaning solos with a bluesy approach, and Ekman rounds out the group, providing solid, yet flexible bass work that bolsters the band from below. While Nowell’s first two albums were first-class musical outings, Stockholm Swingin’ is simply his best thus far. The third time really is a charm.
Stockholm Swingin’ is the result of a tour through Sweden by New York-based saxophonist Sean Nowell with fellow American, drummer Joe Abba. The pair performed a series of concerts with a trio of Swedish musicians, guitarist Fredrik Olsson, pianist Leo Lindberg and bassist Lars Ekman, resulting in this exciting live release recorded at the Glen Miller Café in Stockholm. Nowell’s biting tenor leads this charged-up quintet. The Alabama native devours the blues on McCoy Tyner’s “Blues on the Corner” and the up-tempo flavor of his own composition “NY Vibe.” Not the least bit bashful of his willingness to swing, Nowell rides gracefully through Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” Abba and Ekman build up unrelenting grooves, especially on Abba’s Latin-type tune “Walking the Path.” Lindberg and Olsson contribute searing solo turns to this all around high-energy, swingin’ affair.
A blossoming career that started in Birmingham, Alabama recently had a stop all the way over in Stockholm, Sweden. For tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell’s third album (all of which are on Posi-Tone Records, by the way),Nowell and drummer Joe Abba flew over to Sweden, joined Frederik Olsson (guitar), Leo Lindberg (piano), and Lars Ekman (bass), toured the country for two weeks, and ended the jaunt at the legendary Glenn Miller Cafe in the capital city. Stockholm Swingin’ is a souvenir from that gig. There’s no boundaries being pushed on Stockholm Swingin’, but everything is done rather well. Old-school straight ahead post-bop jazz with standards like “Blues On The Corner,” “Chelsea Bridge” and the local traditional “Ack Värmeland du Sköna” are blended in with originals that sound almost like standards themselves, like the bluesy groove of Lingberg and Olsson’s “Harlem Woman” (Youtube below). Nowell, who has worked with jazz and jazz notables of every stripe, plays sweet but strong sax on this set, not too unlike another American tenor guy who spent a little time in Scandinavia, Dexter Gordon. Lingberg, who is still in his teens, is a talent to keep watch for; his relaxed and in the pocket manner on “Woman” evokes Sonny Clark. Abba shows just what a tasteful rhythmist he is on Duke Ellington’s “Amad.” Sean Nowell’s alliance of American and European jazzmen is yet another in a long line of successful such coalitions. S. Victor Aaron - Something Else!

LIVE PERFORMANCE REVIEWS:

"The Seeker" CD RELEASE @ SMALLS

One of the greatest aspects of being a jazz critic in New York City is the element of discovery. To be asked to attend a performance by an emerging jazz artist, one with whom I have not previously been familiar, and then to be blown away by their performance is one of the joys of jazz. Hence add another interesting and creative musician to my list. His name is Sean Nowell. Nowell is a monster tenor saxophonist from Alabama who is slowly taking hold of the New York City scene. With extremely refreshing compositions and chops that would make Tony Atlas proud - I would advise the New York City jazzbo to keep an eye out on Mr. Nowell.

On this gorgeous New York evening at Smalls Jazz Club, the Sean Nowell Group (as he calls it) were taking the stage to celebrate his latest release. The set opened up with a track titled "New York Vibe" from the new Posi-Tone release entitled The Seeker. And may I add - after getting a copy of this disc it is clearly up for running as a top ten in my collection for 2009. The opener slid in with a drum intro from Joe Abbatantuono, which led right into the head, attracting the listener’s attention and drawing one in instantly. Nowells compositions are not only a demonstration of some serious tenor playing, but his melody lines are very catchy. The piece featured exceptional solos by Nowell, his guitar counterpart Nir Felder and Art Hirahara on piano. I can’t overstate how important to take hold of a crowd right out of the gate and Nowell did just that. He had me!

"New York Vibe" was followed up by a composition titled "Domnowski Park" - which again featured Nowell grabbing the tune by the horns and showing his mastery of the tenor saxophone. This selection featured a gorgeous piano solo by Hirahara.

Next up was my personal favorite of the evening – a tune titled "Oy Masti Masti which featured a very European style type feel and Mr. David Eggar on cello, who was simply incredible. Again tremendous saxophone work from Nowell, an eye-popping solo from Eggar, and a very funk based guitar solo from Felder had you wanting more.

Mr. Nowell was also very personable, engaging the audience as he explained the stories behind the songs.

The evenings first set closed with a gorgeous arrangement of the Beatles tune "I Will" which was simply beautiful. A top-notch arrangement and another fantastic solo from cellist Eggar was just what the arrangement ordered.

Well it happened on this night again. I was not familiar with tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell – and now I’m a fan, very much enjoying his new release titled The Seeker.

 

 

THE SEEKER

 

 

 

Instead of The Seeker, Sean Nowell could have used "New York Vibe" as the title for his second Posi-Tone disc. The blistering opening track oozes Big Apple attitude, though not from the current century. The feeling is closer to a mid-20th century Apple, with Checker cabs flying across the Brooklyn Bridge and candle-lit supper clubs thick with cigarette smoke. Nowell's bold, snarling tenor could have easily come from that era, and Art Hirahara's percussive piano is just as muscular. Together they bring an uncompromising East Coast mindset to flame-throwing Nowell originals and timeless standards.

It's not all strolls down the sidewalks of Noo Yawk. Cellist Dave Eggar sends the East Coast vibe into a Middle Eastern direction with a mystical version of the Yiddish traditional "Oy Matze Matze." Eggar also brings out the loss in a melancholy opening section of Lennon & McCartney's "I Will," and contributes exquisite harmony to to Nowell's own "Jamie's Decision." (Nowell takes the harmony a step further by double-tracking himself on flute.) The Seeker is like a Mariano Rivera fastball: it flies right down Broadway, daring anyone to try and lay a bat on it. That won't happen, because there's nothing to do but nod in admiration as the ball flies by, straight and true.

Tenor sax ace Sean Nowell's second date as a leader provides some insight into his broad musical vernacular, since the Birmingham, AL., native has composed film scores and has performed master classes in Europe on American jazz. He also incorporates snippets of European folk music and other world music aspects into his repertoire, largely based on the progressive jazz idiom. Nowell's hearty tone and fluid delivery is built upon lots of gusto and soaring lines. However, it's not all about fire and brimstone, evidenced on You Don't Know What Love Is, featuring Thomas Kneeland's pensive, bowed-bass solo and cellist Dave Eggar's sonorous articulations. Moreover, the saxophonist intersperses a catchy North African motif into this piece. Otherwise, Eggar adds a novel dimension to three tracks, as he often takes the edge off and calms the waters along with Nowell's rapidly flowing choruses and shifting tides. The sextet goes on a tear within intermittent passages, where Nowell pushes the band into intense dialogues, often abetted by pianist Art Hirahara's deft phrasings and sizzling right hand leads. On Johnny Mercer's I Remember You, Nowell goes full throttle by spinning an up-tempo bop groove, spiced with a Latin rhythmic vibe during the choruses. Here, the band explores an amalgamation of mini-themes while drummer Joe Abbatantuono roughs it up via his polyrhythmic bombardment towards the finale. Nowell strikes a chord with these high-impact pieces, topped off by his memorable compositions and cleverly engineered arrangements. He differentiates himself from the norm, throughout the often-captivating sequence of musical events, brimming with fresh sounds and the frontline's zealous soloing breakouts.

The Seeker (Posi-Tone Records) Originally from Birmingham, Alabama and influenced by the southern tradition of blues, gospel and jazz, tenor saxophonist and composer Sean Nowell unleashes his second project for the Posi-Tone Records with a command performance in a fiery passion-filled eight-piece barn-burner of a recording with “The Seeker.” Playing with the sophistication of a John Coltrane and the grace of a Lee Konitz, Nowell unfurls the sax for intense tenor work dominating the band and delivering an excellent session of straight ahead contemporary jazz elevating “The Seeker” to an elite category. Recording with a sextet of young and hungry players who prove their mettle here, Nowell is joined once again by pianist Art Hirahara and drummer Joe Abbatantuono who performed on his first Posi-Tone CD “Firewerks.” Rounding out the rhythm section are bassist Thomson Kneeland, guitarist Nir Felder and Dave Eggar performing on cello. The result of course is a terrific spacious sound produced by a small and tight ense mble that sound like they've been together for more than one recording. The music opens up with an energetic bursts from Nowell's tenor announcing an electrifying vibrant ride on his original “New York Vibe,” where the saxophonist goes off on a torrid tare of a solo leading the band over a lively landscape of hard-bop. Pianist Hirahara follows the leader with an enticing performance of his own on the lively opener. Nowell changes direction on the Raye/DePaul standard “You Don't Know What Love Is,” as he tones it down and drives a softer tone here respecting the melody for its heartfelt mood. Nowell mixes a bit of the World music sound with a taste of the Middle Eastern/Jewish sound on the interesting “Oy Matze Matze” then gently returns to a more traditional approach on the cushy ballad-like “Dunavski Park” delivering another exquisite tenor phrasing. The program ends with a somber read to the Lennon/McCartney tune “I Will,” where the drummer's cymbal accents and cellist Eggar come to the forefront with their play and by contrast putting a very fine exclamation point on one of the most up beat and rapid-paced renditions to the Schertzinger/Johnny Mercer classic “I Remember You” one will20ever hear.

It would be foolish to describe saxophonist Sean Nowell as a 21st century schizoid tenor man, but two distinct strands characterize the New York-based player's work. On the one hand, Nowell is active in funk and post-fusion styles, with his own Kung-Fu Masters and MonAtomic groups, among other line-ups. On the other hand, he's a precociously talented straight ahead player, with a gritty and exuberant approach displaying traces of such illustrious forebears as Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane and Michael Brecker.


The two strands overlap, of course, as do the personnel of the bands. But so far, under his own name, Nowell's studio focus has been on straight ahead performance, first with Firewerks (Positone 2007), and now with The Seeker, on which he moves between the fierce and forceful and the lush and voluptuous to devastating effect.

On Firewerks, Nowell led a two-saxophones and rhythm section quintet. On The Seeker he fronts a quartet, with pianist Art Hirahara and drummer Joe Abbatantuono held over from the earlier album and joined by new bassist Thomson Kneeland. There are cameo roles for two guests, cellist Dave Eggar and guitarist Nir Felder, whose brief appearances, Eggar's especially, are quite wonderful.

As the opening track title suggests, The Seeker's predominant vibe is a modern day re-energization of the East Coast hard bop of the 1950s and 1960s. Nowell stays mainly on the "inside," Hiraha veers closer to Andrew Hill or Cecil Taylor than he does to Sonny Clark or Wynton Kelly, and Abbatantuono and Kneeland attack with a hard bop vigor dusted with successive decades' rhythmic dalliances, including funk, jazz-rock and fusion. The result is a chili-hot stew of galvanizing intensity.

Nowell, the chief soloist, also turns his hand, with sumptuous effect, to a couple of ballad covers, Lennon and McCartney's "I Will" and the particularly gorgeous, Don Raye and Gene De Paul composed "You Don't What Love Is." Eggar's cello, in lovely counterpoint with Nowell, states the themes of the traditional Bulgarian folk tune "Oy Matze Matze," Nowell's astringent "Jamie's Decision" and "I Will." It's on these tracks that the muscular balladeering of Dexter Gordon comes to mind.

The album closes with a galloping reading of Victor Schertzinger and Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You." Written in 1941, its pace and attack here are totally 2009 and Nowell and Hirahara's solos range further "out" than they do elsewhere. A reminder, if one were needed, that style categorization remains an inexact science.

"The Seeker" finds tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell traveling across a vast harmonic spectrum to a place filled with intriguing melodies and rhythmic world beats. With roots based in the deep South, Nowell's background is quite diverse compared to that of most members of the New York jazz circuit. On "The Seeker", he offers hints of Southern blues, gospel, and funk roots, combined with a truly complex and unique sense of harmony to create an album filled with joy and wonder. Nowell takes listeners on a bold musical journey with a New York Vibe, stretching the band's abilities to the limit with horn sounds that are instantly recognizable, yet seemingly brand new. With each note Nowell impresses more, even when tackling the Lennon/McCartney composition "I Will". Altogether, "The Seeker" must be considered a candidate as one of the finest jazz releases of the year.

The Seeker (Posi-Tone Records) Apropos enough of an album title here; from leaving behind his Alabama a cappella choir in favor of the big east cities to bombing Kosovo with culture and jamming soundtracks with Stanley Clarke, Nowell’s life is officially a circus of art. On this 2nd album for Posi-Tone as a leader, however, the surprise lies in the conventionality of his passion for small-combo 50s/60s avant-jazz/post-bop, here branching into uncommon ethnicities (the wizened Jewish flavor of “Oy Matze Matze”), subliminal bar-rock beats (“Dunavski Park”) and chicken soup for the gangster’s moll’s soul (“I Will,” a nice space for some Humphrey Bogart dialog). “New York Vibe” is pure Blue Note oldschool, with Nowell taking a 3.5 minute solo he probably concocted while playing the Manhattan clubs in which he’s a resident; other sizzle is found between the fusion basslines and psychedelics of “For All Intensive Purposes.” The brain-blower comes last, in the warp-speed Coltrane-like closeout track “I Remember You.” Grade: A- [street date: 6/9/09]

The Seeker (Posi-Tone Records) “Jamie’s Decision” is a fetching Sean Nowell composition that encourages repeat listening. The gorgeous melody allows Nowell’s rich saxophone timbre to lull you into its spell. Just when you start to get comfortable, he changes the time signature to bring you about. Eggar’s cello meshes nicely with Nowell’s saxophone and Hirahara’s piano, which gives the proceedings the quality of chamber jazz.. Abbatantuono produces a rich assortment of percussive sounds that fill in the lulls at precisely the right places and move the piece along without ever being brash. This is a little gem of a composition that is satisfyingly complete as it builds and releases tension with an accomplished air of subdued maturity.

The group dynamic is a powerful force in jazz. Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell recognizes that with The Seeker, a set of songs that demonstrate his abilities as a leader, songwriter and soloist, but doesn't ignore those around him.

Nowell hails from Birmingham, Alabama. Versed in several styles of music, he has also traveled world-wide and has worked with musicians, actors, dancers and many others throughout his career. In addition to playing jazz in New York clubs, Nowell has scored films and served as musical director for a theater company. Accompanying him are pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Thomas Kneeland and drummer Joe Abbatantuono. Cellist David Eggar and guitarist Nir Felder also make appearances.

"New York Vibe" is aptly named. The high-energy pace, the momentary stops are like a night drive through the city. Abbatantuono's hi-hat work is striking, with bass and piano also making their mark. Nowell leads on tenor sax, exploring its lower range on several phrases, but quickly bouncing back to the middle, occasionally stretching to the upper reaches, even screeching at one point. Hirahara follows with a solo and, after repeating the melody, Nowell finishes the song with a series of high-note wails.

The bass subtly begins "Oy Matze Matze," soon joined by drums and piano. Nowell comes in, accompanied in counterpoint by Eggar. The song has a Far Eastern feel during the soft passage, but as the intensity picks up, it's an unrestrained, no-holds-barred jam. After Nowell's high-pitch grind ends his solo, Kneeland steps up for a solo, accompanied only by drums and piano. Nowell and Eggar blend during the closing sequence, which repeats the earlier melody but with greater intensity.

"For All Intensive Purposes" is as its title implies. Felder joins the ensemble for this near-frantic piece. Guitar and sax are as one during several phrases, splitting when appropriate. Nowell's solo is loaded with stop-and-go action. While the background tempo remains the same, Nowell easily shifts from rapid notes in succession to sustained tones. Abbatantuono is in a zone on the cymbals during Hirahara's solo. Felder fills during the melody, but again joins Nowell in a hard-charging end.

The Seeker is eight tracks of free-flowing music. Nowell, who wrote four of the songs, is the focus, but the supporting cast is deeply involved from start to finish, making for a solid group outing.

"FIREWERKS" (Positone 2007)

Sean Nowell is a virtual unknown who became known to me virtually through the socio-musical phenomenon known as MySpace. Nowell and his quintet have succeeded at melding, morphing and mixing the best of Blue Note-era small-group nirvana with the Headhunters' pocket and vibe, evolving it to right now. This is not merely attributable to great writing and playing, but innovative arranging between the dual horn attack of tenorist Nowell and altoist Travis Sullivan, as padded and parried by Art Hirahara's ultra-hip Rhodes. A hard -driving horn man from Alabama, Nowell's now a New Yorker and member of Sullivan's Bjorkestra, of which this entire unit is a scintillating subset.

A modern sinewy dual horn line kick-starts "Pale," abetted by Joe Abbatantuono's modern rock beats and bassist Danny Zanker's slinky and bomb-like acoustic accents. This is supplanted by what I'll call Nowell and Sullivan's "home sound," one that could be conjured by a front-line of saxophonists Stanley Turrentine and Sonny Criss until it starts to dance around each other in a motivic counter-melody so tightly written and arranged it sounds improvised.

Nowell's first solo shows his big-tenor influences and up-to-the minute chops, punctuated by tasteful over- blowing running perfectly counter to the gutbucket jam, then growing Brecker-esquely dense. Sullivan doesn't wait for the bar line on a perfectly executed handoff, while showing he's an equally gifted soloist, adding Criss-like breathiness, classic alto rasp and finally, modern angularity to the mix. Hirahara seamlessly runs first into atmospheric territory, abetted by Abbatantuono's stops and starts. The drummer's dexterity on the bell of the ride and snare propels the Rhodes man to elasticize the funk into uncharted territory before bringing it home linearly and exiting on a new motif.

San Francisco transplant Hirahara is the session's most "out-of-nowhere" revelation, so potent a soloist and colorist it seems at times as though it's his date, as on the sultry "Resolution of Self," similarly centered on unison, then separately supportive dual horn lines. Changing chords on each note of the latter portion of the horn line, the Rhodes urgently recontextualizes each second of their freefall. Horns drop out to leave a Rhodes trio. Hirahara counterbalances a restatement of the head, right against left, languidly linearizing into a solo growing more rhythmically precise, finally allowing slower lines to overrun each other with vintage sustain. The set's catchiest number, using four bars of five and containing two notes each, it seems a rip-off of a classic horn line, but isn't. The pre-ending motif is particularly effective as the two notes restate, but climb in a simple scalar fashion seducing you into a smoky sixties vibe.

Another highlight is "Inner Universe," Nowell's drum 'n' bass-driven rearrangement of a song by Anime composer Yoko Kanno that serves as a shreddingly satisfying modern tribute.

Tempting as it is to say Nowell's concept, and the fresh-faced cast assembled here to translate it, portends great things, it's untrue—they've already delivered one.

KUNG-FU MASTERS Live at Spike Hill Apr 9, 2009 Despite squeezing onto Spike Hill’s diminutive stage like 1950’s college kids in a phone booth, the performance of the Kung Fu Masters was anything but limited. The humble jazz fusion group dished up enough mind-bogglingly elaborate sounds over the course of an hour to satisfy a mutant millipede with ears in lieu of legs. If the Kung Fu Masters were their own country, music making would be a highly democratic process, with each of the outstanding musicians standing out equally (with one exception). Digitally echoed sax introductions resounded timelessly in a canyon of psychedelic chords, each likely containing more than a half dozen pitches. The two keyboardists (curiously seated at right angles) emitted sounds ranging from creepy organ dissonance to funky “wah-wah” flickers to vintage electric piano flourishes and mercurial solos. Despite striking up quite a frenzy, the drummer showed no signs of exertion thanks to his impressive economy of motion. In terms of genre, the Masters demonstrated an eclectic update on the more cerebral music that emerged from the 1970's, such as progressive rock and Sweetnighter-era Weather Report. While the nearly anarchic harmony suggested free jazz, the boundaries between sections and Indian/math-rock-like timings showed clean synchronization. Song #3's turtle tempo and mournful psychedelic mood illustrated the group's more emotional shades, and intricacies like a loud introductory synthesizer buzz and a Jew's harp-like effect further extended the auditory palate. The end of the show's second piece consisted of a slow, bluesy chorus-like section, driven by giant organ chords and repeated seemingly ad infinitum; the only thing missing from this gospel song was a belting church choir. As the music spoke for itself, stage presence and ornamental motions were not particularly necessary. The Masters were packed sardine-style on the stage, making such things almost impossible and unadvisable anyway. The bass player's relative abundance of elbowroom permitted him to sway in an odd-looking multi-dimensional fashion, which detracted from the visual experience of the band. As the bandleader, the saxophonist naturally exuded the highest level of stage presence. Instead of histrionic dance-like movements, this was manifested in a muscular physique and amusing patter prior to the evening's third song (described faux-seductively as “one for the ladies”). More than mere entertainment, the band proved themselves to be masters of the fusion universe, saturating each air molecule with sonic sophistication. Catching them at a longer show with a bigger stage is highly recommended.