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Sean Driscoll Group: Islands

Ed Kopp By

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One of 12 bands to win Musician Magazine's "Best Unsigned Band Contest" in 1997, the Sean Driscoll Group is a jazz-fusion outfit fronted by guitarist-composer Sean Driscoll, yet another attendee of the Berklee School of Music in Boston. His group consists of six young musicians from four countries — the U.S., Mexico, Sweden and Venezuela — who met as college students in Boston and have since relocated to New York. Driscoll and company joined forces in 1994, and Islands is their second self-produced release.



The verdict? This is simply the best independent jazz release I've heard since I began this site in March of '97, and it's one of the better fusion efforts I've heard in 1998, independent or otherwise.



The Sean Driscoll Group has been compared to the Pat Metheny Group and Weather Report, and while such comparisons are justified, Driscoll and company have forged a sound all their own. A few crotchety critics have argued that the Pat Metheny Group should be labeled a world music or new age group — anything but a jazz band. This same argument cannot be made about Driscoll and company. This outfit is first and foremost an improvisational combo (read that "jazz band"), though they play some electric instruments and derive some elements from Brazilian popular music. Islands features plenty of guitar-sax interplay, tasteful piano interludes, keyboard atmospherics, intricate melodies, and complex Brazilian rhythms.



The synergy here is remarkable for such a youthful bunch. Driscoll and saxophonist Bill Vint are most prominently featured, but the other players are given plenty of room to stretch. The opening track "Half Circle, Half Square," features a Metheny-like bridge and an extended solo from Driscoll, who's a very fluid player. Other strong tracks include "Archipelago," a pretty mood piece that spotlights keyboardist Patrik Andren. "Where We're From" is a mellow piece driven by Vint's cool saxophone. With its sinuous melody, reggae-like rhythms, and tasteful synth, "No One To Tell" is my favorite track. "Watch You Fly" and "If You Ask" are airy ballads, while "Bright Spot" and "3 Faces" wed dulcet melodies to complex syncopations. "North" showcases the talents of bassist Carlos Sanoja, drummer Antonio Sanchez and percussionist Doug Hinrichs.



Islands is a relatively mellow but captivating fusion release from a youthful group with a very bright future. Driscoll is a skilled jazz composer and an egalitarian band leader. His group has already achieved a level of musicianship most bands can only dream about. Here's hoping a major label signs these guys.


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