Tenor sax ace Sean Nowell’s second date as a leader provides some insight into his broad musical vernacular, since the Birmingham, AL., native has composed film scores and has performed master classes in Europe on American jazz. He also incorporates snippets of European folk music and other world music aspects into his repertoire, largely based on the progressive jazz idiom.
Nowell’s hearty tone and fluid delivery is built upon lots of gusto and soaring lines. However, it’s not all about fire and brimstone, evidenced on "You Don’t Know What Love Is," featuring Thomas Kneeland’s pensive, bowed-bass solo and cellist Dave Eggar’s sonorous articulations. Moreover, the saxophonist intersperses a catchy North African motif into this piece. Otherwise, Eggar adds a novel dimension to three tracks, as he often takes the edge off and calms the waters along with Nowell’s rapidly flowing choruses and shifting tides.
The sextet goes on a tear within intermittent passages, where Nowell pushes the band into intense dialogues, often abetted by pianist Art Hirahara’s deft phrasings and sizzling right hand leads. On Johnny Mercer’s "I Remember You," Nowell goes full throttle by spinning an up-tempo bop groove, spiced with a Latin rhythmic vibe during the choruses. Here, the band explores an amalgamation of mini-themes while drummer Joe Abbatantuono roughs it up via his polyrhythmic bombardment towards the finale.
Nowell strikes a chord with these high-impact pieces, topped off by his memorable comps and cleverly engineered arrangements. He differentiates himself from the norm, throughout the often-captivating sequence of musical events, brimming with fresh sounds and the frontline’s zealous soloing breakouts.- Glenn Astarita