Stories To Tell by drummer Sean Noonan and his Brewed By Noon group is a perfect example of what that much abused word, fusion, should be about. Here we find a grand mix of various world musics, including West African, which is music Noonan clearly loves and Celtic/Gaelic, which is from Noonan's ethnic roots.
Added to this rather eclectic mix is the notion of storytelling in both the African and Irish traditions as obviously represented by the use of words, but also by most of the tunes having their own dramatic arc. The music tells a story and you do not have to know the Bambara language to hear the emotion in "Esspi," as sung by the wonderful griot Abdoulaye Diabate or Gaelic in "Noonbrews," as sung by the equally compelling Susan McKeon.
The album has been recorded as a hybrid SACD in both two and five channels, and the sound gets quite dense at times on the headphones. What is clear though is that Noonan is at the center of the music, both as the main percussionist (an electro-acoustic drum set), but more importantly as the visionary who feels it is his mission to create something new from mixing these disparate styles.
Where Noonan succeeds extremely well is as the person who supports the entire project, allowing and encouraging his band mates to express themselves. The energy and intensity levels are extremely high, as the opening tunes "Massana Cisse" and "Esspi" set the stage. However, not everyone is going to respond positively to all of the styles that appear here, and some of the rock guitar gets tiresome. "Scabies" might repulse, but then again so would a scabies infestation, so at least the music is true to life.
These ears quickly tuned into Mat Maneri's viola and how much his sound influences the proceedings. Maneri manages, with his microtonal approach and extremely loose rhythmic feel, to affect the overall sound greatly, even when he is not as exposed as in "Dr. Sleepytime" or "Connection," where he is in his element.
The worst response an album can get is no response, and Stories To Tell has much that is very attractive and/or effective with some tracks that might be called an acquired taste, but nothing that commits the sin of boredom.
Track Listing: Massana Cissé; Esspi; Noonbrews; Connection; Urban Mbalax; No Strings Attached; NY; Pineapple; Scabies; Dr. Sleepytime.
Personnel: Sean Noonan: electro-acoustic drumset; Marc Ribot, Aram Bajakian, Jon Madof: electric guitars; Mat Maner: viola; Thierno Camara: electric bass, vocals, percussion; Abdoulaye Diabate, Susan McKeown, Dawn Padmore: vocals; Jim Pugliese, Thiokho Diagne: percussion.
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