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Sean Noonan: The Aqua Diva

Don Phipps By

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Surreal, comic, wistful, and whimsical, Sean Noonan's The Aqua Diva provides a unique journey into a world that is part Tom Waits, part Mose Allison, part Frank Zappa, and a whole lot of Sean Noonan. Noonan articulates and sings odd ditties and lyrics which introduce us to the Aqua Diva, Bubbles, the Smoking Man, and other strange and colorful personas. He is joined on his musical expose by Alex Marcelo on piano and Peter Bitenc on bass.

On "A Sunny Day," Marcelo opens with a repeating piano motif and Noonan offers some spoken vocals. The piece becomes slightly discordant and turns haunting and eerie. Noonan's snare taps and quick rim rolls provide the floor for a piano-bass exchange before the music returns to the sunny disposition theme and a bluesy jazz happiness. The Zappa-like "When My Band Goes With Me On The Road" features fast rhythms and bop; one can even hear an Irish ditty towards the end. The Mose Allison-style "As The World Spins Around Me" begins with a rocky, bluesy intro. Marcelo rotates on the keys as his phrases arc and stretch and Noonan and Bitenc mimic Marcelo's antics.

On the ballad "Butterflies Away," Noonan serves up a TV variety-show version of Frank Sinatra over Marcelo's accompaniment. "Don Knotts" combines syncopated piano and bass drum motifs, bass walks, jazz improvs, and a lot of snare smacks to generate arrhythmic and irregular beats. Noonan shows off his skills with a solo that highlights colorful expression on the rim of the drum and some all-over drumming. He finishes with vocals as the piece winds down in an exclamation.

On "Elijah Rocks," Noonan attacks the snare drum while the piano plays hard rock/blues phrases. Bitenc solos over Marcelo's striking chords, and Marcelo finishes with an intense blues-out gospel solo. "Smoking Man" begins with Marcelo's blues piano lick. The song develops as a mix of odd metering and demonic vaudeville. The playing becomes almost free-form, and the piano phrases oscillate with blues triplets as the piece turns nightmarish.

"The Aqua Diva" has a Latin feel. Noonan adds claves clicks and clacks and everything is subordinate to the purposely melodramatic vocals. There is a psychedelic party atmosphere to the song and it ends with a slowly bowed drunken bass line. The ballad, "Where Would I Go" returns to gospel piano rock and Noonan emphasizes his cymbals. The piece evolves into an Irish ode, with Marcelo's piano sounding harp like at times. "Make Her Great Again," also a ballad, has a ponderous opening. Marcelo adds a kind of gospel-like phrase while Bitenc bows underneath. Noonan works the cymbals lightly. The subtle abstractions end with a recitation by Noonan.

The lyrics are tongue-in-cheek for the most part. "Don't tap dance on thin ice," "Do you feel my gravity," "Chewing gum not to fall asleep...," "Don Knotts me...," "Can never get enough advice from the smoking man," and "When I walk I talk and when I talk I walk," all serve to illustrate Noonan's intriguing ode to life and his adventures in it. It is hard to say whether the lyrics on The Aqua Diva drive the tunes or the other way around.

Playful, whimsical, tongue-in-cheek, and phantasmagoric, The Aqua Diva consists of eccentric characters and unusual elements, and its Irish-blues-jazz mix is certainly unique. Shall we dive in with the Aqua Diva?

Track Listing: A Sunny Day; When My Band Goes With Me On The Road; As The World Spins Around Me; Butterflies Away; Don Knotts; Elijah Rocks; Smoking Man; The Aqua Diva; Where Would I Go; Make Her Great Again.

Personnel: Sam Noonan: drums, vocals, compositions; Alex Marcelo: piano; Peter Bitenc: bass.

Title: The Aqua Diva | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: noonansmusic

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