Sean Noonan, Richard Bona & Sugar Pie DeSanto

Sean Noonan, Richard Bona & Sugar Pie DeSanto
Martin Longley By

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Sean Noonan & Pavees Dance
The Douglass Street Music Collective
December 15, 2011

It might seem as though drummer/composer Sean Noonan was enjoying a quiet year in 2011, playing fewer gigs than usual. The reality is that he's been busy scribing new works, in preparation for a twin album onslaught in 2012. He's also planning an extensive reissue drive for his existing catalogue. Six months ago, Noonan played at The Stone with his Boxing Dreams String Quartet. Just as it sounds, that involved Noonan's drumming together with a more aggressive than usual ring of cello, viola and two violins. This gig at the intimate Douglass Street Music Collective studio (a loft environment on the ground floor) presented another band concept with a similar makeup, though involving a very different instrumentation. The Pavees Dance ensemble (and suite) increased Noonan's storytelling side, with his intoned narrative inhabiting most of the tunes at some stage of their proceedings. Violinist Tom Swafford violin remained from Boxing Dreams, joined by cornetist Kirk Knuffke, trombonist Brian Drye and clarinetist Oran Etkin.

The band's name hints at the nature of Noonan's new music. The Pavees are the "walking people" of Ireland, and the pieces mostly shared a suitably gypsy-rooted character. Noonan enjoys the luxury of filtering styles from Irish music, Eastern European wedding tunes, and a generally American immigrant fusion of ingrained folk song, all churned up with an improvising cut-up sensibility and a punkily staccato drive. Here, Noonan's works tilted from collected lyrical stateliness to a hurtling rabble of rucking, as he punctuated the twists and turns with his own emphatic blows, hammering hard to emphasize his verbal phrasing or splashing gently around the cymbals to underscore the gleaming harmonies of his pseudo-gypsy crew—seated players who sounded like they were standing, or even parading.

Who knows what the story is behind "Forced Meatballs," which seemed to involve said delicacies manifested as cosmically flitting entities. The forced became the force. Noonan included "The Wayfaring Stranger," but of course, it received his deeply personalized rendering, the traditional transformed into an avant folk recitation. The composer tackled his roots with "No Irish Need Apply," still a true tale, he swore. Indeed, a few days after this gig, I spotted just such a sign at Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn, only a few blocks southward. Okay, so "Freddy" is surely an Irishman himself but, in decades gone by, we could imagine the sentiment that Noonan was exploring. The composer wove words as a narrator of grimly urban faerie tales, burning a wistful campfire closeness with a socially satirical message, simultaneously melding naive wonderment and deadly schizophrenic darkness. Knuffke's pepper spray cornet dodged around Swafford's grit-dragging violin lines, Noonan's aggressively subtle drumming always driving the details of his horn crew. The construction of their parts sometimes had a delicately elaborate cascading effect, but when Noonan periodically decided to propel, they suddenly transformed into a lustily careening street combo. The music ended up being a kind of stately, embellished chamber folk, drunk on cobblestoned beer-spillage, but never tripping flat onto its face, always clogging like the nimblest of pixies.

Richard Bona's Mandekan Cubano
Jazz Standard
December 27, 2011

On paper (or website), a week's worth of dates by Richard Bona might not seem massively exciting as a New Year's Eve run-up residency. The Jazz Standard has characteristically presented some spectacularly big-banded shows over the last few holiday seasons. The reality of live experience was very, very different, transcending all expectations. First, this was the debut of a specialized Mandekan Cubano band project, rather than Bona's regular manifestation. Second, even this first set of the first evening found the players in towering form. And third, this was no lightened Cuban fusion; this was a hardcore feast of driving roots rhythms. Okay, so fusion was allowed, given that the music also contained frissons from other Caribbean islands, plus the expected Cameroonian stylings from Bona himself, moving outwards across the West of Africa. Even so, the dominant sound was an uncompromising percussion-and-horns dialogue that would be at home in a sweaty Havana joint.


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