119

Sean McGowan: Sphere

David Rickert By

Sign in to view read count
Sean McGowan: Sphere Those who seek to create a tribute album of Thelonious Monk music face one big obstacle: how do you capture Monk's idiosyncratic style without sounding like a pale imitation? You could just record cover versions of his songs and leave it at that, but the end result wouldn't really capture the pianist's oddball genius, so what would be the point?

Perhaps Sean McGowan has found the best solution: adapt Monk's music to a different instrument than piano. Sphere, features solo guitar interpretations of Monk that capture the spirit of his style while also drawing on guitar influences like Lenny Breau, Joe Pass, and Michael Hedges.

The opening "Blue Monk" summarizes McGowan's approach. A nimble solo leads right into the head, which has the occasional odd note to summon the spirit of the master. Next follows an accomplished solo, filled with walking bass lines and perfectly positioned chords and an endless supply of interesting ideas. At times, McGowan captures the rhythmic inventiveness of Monk, as he does on "Rhythm-A-Ning," but he is also determined to make these tunes his own. To that end there are steady beats and a sustained swing with a ragtime feel, as well as middle sections that wander off into unexpected places. McGowan really settles into the groove on "Bye-Ya," adding an extra bit of spice to the tango rhythm that is essential for the tune to work properly. Only a modern funky "We See" seems like an anachronistic misfire.

And then there are the ballads, beautiful interpretations that recall the pleasant wanderings of New Age guitarists while avoiding the maudlin effect they can produce. Both "Ruby, My Dear" and "'Round Midnight" are taken at a contemplative pace with compelling ideas before the head and plenty of interesting chord choices. "'Round Midnight," in particular, is the album's centerpiece and rightly so; it's arguably Monk's most famous composition, and the one which McGowan takes the furthest into the outer reaches with nebulous arpeggios and plenty of open space.

It would be hard to find a jazz musician who didn't love Monk's music, and equally as hard to find someone who can hit the sweet spot in creating a tribute. Sphere is a perfect showcase for McGowan's skills as an arranger and guitarist, and a worthy entry into the field of solo jazz guitar recordings.

Track Listing: Blue Monk; Rhythm-A-Ning; Bye-Ya; Ruby, My Dear; We See; 'Round Midnight; Trinkle Tinkle; North of the Sunset; Light Blue; Crepuscle With Nellie.

Personnel: Sean McGowan: guitar.

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read Groove Dreams CD/LP/Track Review Groove Dreams
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Kami Fusen CD/LP/Track Review Kami Fusen
by Glenn Astarita
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Two CD/LP/Track Review Two
by Joe Gatto
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand CD/LP/Track Review Galaxies Like Grains Of Sand
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 23, 2017
Read Nightfall CD/LP/Track Review Nightfall
by John Kelman
Published: May 22, 2017
Read Pekka CD/LP/Track Review Pekka
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 22, 2017
Read "Lowdown Hoedown" CD/LP/Track Review Lowdown Hoedown
by Paul Rauch
Published: January 18, 2017
Read "To The Universe" CD/LP/Track Review To The Universe
by Dave Wayne
Published: July 14, 2016
Read "Velcro Bird" CD/LP/Track Review Velcro Bird
by John Eyles
Published: September 19, 2016
Read "Tony Kadleck Big Band: Around the Horn" CD/LP/Track Review Tony Kadleck Big Band: Around the Horn
by Dr. Judith Schlesinger
Published: November 11, 2016
Read "Shoebox View" CD/LP/Track Review Shoebox View
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 26, 2016
Read "Live in New York" CD/LP/Track Review Live in New York
by Mark Corroto
Published: August 8, 2016
comments powered by Disqus

Why wait?

Support All About Jazz and we'll deliver exclusive content, hide ads, hide slide-outs, and provide read access to our future articles.

Buy it!