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Sean McGowan: Sphere

Florence Wetzel By

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For many jazz lovers, pianist Thelonious Monk's solo recordings of his own compositions are an exquisite pleasure. The simplicity of a single instrument reveals the compositions' elegant architecture, allowing their angular beauty to become refreshingly clear. The challenge and joy of recording Monk's music solo continues to entice musicians, thus creating afresh some of the twentieth century's most enduring artworks.

Guitarist Sean McGowan pays homage to Monk on Sphere, titled after Monk's unique middle name. McGowan has drawn praise for his two previous releases, including winning the Best Independent Release Award from Acoustic Guitar Magazine in 2002. He is currently based in Colorado, playing on the Front Range music scene and helping to raise the next generation of jazz musicians as part of the University of Colorado's thriving Music Performance Department.

On Sphere, McGowan keeps things simple, offering ten Monk tunes on solo guitar, recorded in a studio with no overdubbing. The track list is like looking at a menu and seeing all your favorite foods ("Blue Monk," "Ruby, My Dear," 'Round Midnight"), plus a few dishes you don't know well but are happy to try ("Light Blue," "North of the Sunset"). Monk's tunes can certainly be played loud and swinging—witness "Bemsha Swing" from the classic Brilliant Corners (Riverside, 1957)—but McGowan's interpretations are tender and thoughtful, glowing with warmth and infinite care. He is exquisitely tasteful throughout, remaining true to the melodies while adding colorful textures, including harp-like interludes and occasional sprinklings of dissonance. There's an intimate feel to the CD that's quite appealing, and the consistency of tone and mood creates an ambience that's both lovely and luminous.

According to Robin D. G. Kelley's comprehensive biography Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (Free Press, 2009), Monk fought many battles during his lifetime, including racism and mental illness. Yet amid the external and internal chaos, Monk created great beauty, including the ten compositions on this CD. Monk's songs are an indelible part of music history, and works such as Sphere are exactly how this music continues: an artist falls in love with these tunes, then brings them forward so others can fall in love with them, too. McGowan has created an immensely pleasing CD, a gentle work of art that allows both himself and Monk to shine.

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.

Title: Sphere | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Self Produced

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