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Sean Nowell: The Seeker

Woodrow Wilkins By

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The group dynamic is a powerful force in jazz. Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell recognizes that with The Seeker, a set of songs that demonstrate his abilities as a leader, songwriter and soloist, but doesn't ignore those around him.

Nowell hails from Birmingham, Alabama. Versed in several styles of music, he has also traveled world-wide and has worked with musicians, actors, dancers and many others throughout his career. In addition to playing jazz in New York clubs, Nowell has scored films and served as musical director for a theater company. Accompanying him are pianist Art Hirahara, bassist Thomas Kneeland and drummer Joe Abbatantuono. Cellist David Eggar and guitarist Nir Felder also make appearances.

"New York Vibe" is aptly named. The high-energy pace, the momentary stops are like a night drive through the city. Abbatantuono's hi-hat work is striking, with bass and piano also making their mark. Nowell leads on tenor sax, exploring its lower range on several phrases, but quickly bouncing back to the middle, occasionally stretching to the upper reaches, even screeching at one point. Hirahara follows with a solo and, after repeating the melody, Nowell finishes the song with a series of high-note wails.

The bass subtly begins "Oy Matze Matze," soon joined by drums and piano. Nowell comes in, accompanied in counterpoint by Eggar. The song has a Far Eastern feel during the soft passage, but as the intensity picks up, it's an unrestrained, no-holds-barred jam. After Nowell's high-pitch grind ends his solo, Kneeland steps up for a solo, accompanied only by drums and piano. Nowell and Eggar blend during the closing sequence, which repeats the earlier melody but with greater intensity.

"For All Intensive Purposes" is as its title implies. Felder joins the ensemble for this near-frantic piece. Guitar and sax are as one during several phrases, splitting when appropriate. Nowell's solo is loaded with stop-and-go action. While the background tempo remains the same, Nowell easily shifts from rapid notes in succession to sustained tones. Abbatantuono is in a zone on the cymbals during Hirahara's solo. Felder fills during the melody, but again joins Nowell in a hard-charging end.

The Seeker is eight tracks of free-flowing music. Nowell, who wrote four of the songs, is the focus, but the supporting cast is deeply involved from start to finish, making for a solid group outing.

Track Listing: New York Vibe; You Don't Know What Love Is; Oy Matze Matze; Dunavski Park; Jamie's Decision; For All Intensive Purposes; I Will; I Remember You.

Personnel: Sean Nowell: tenor saxophone, clarinet, flute; Art Hirahara: piano; Thomas Kneeland: bass; Joe Abbatantuono: drums; Dave Eggar: cello; Nir Felder: guitar.

Title: The Seeker | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Posi-Tone Records

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