I have to admit that I am somewhat late to the party when it comes to tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell. Perhaps my hesitancy in exploring his work was based in part to what would appear to be his approach to the more hard bop as that of a musical chameleon. Nowell somehow magically and often mysteriously merges his roots in funk and post bop to create his own lyrical voice with the edge of a Dexter Gordon but the subtlety of a Hank Mobley.
The Seeker is an attempted rebirth of the modern day hard bop of the 50′s and 60′s which some argue was the pinnacle of jazz and it’s ultimate demise. Columbus having been told the earth was flat, I pay these media hounds as little attention as possible. The opening tune “New York Vibe” was intriguing based on the ambiguous title alone. With taste being subjective would not the same basic premise hold true for vibe which is a term more closely associated with smooth jazz? Long story short this is a tune with a driving intensity. “New York Vibe” captures the texture of the Big Apple as a tune of shifting dynamics and an edge that seems to allow the tune to develop a unique identity if not musical pulse. Nowell can swing and the harmonic development is as emotionally charged as Time Square on New Year’s Eve. Art Hirahara is a perfect pairing on piano while the rhythm section of Thomson Kneeland on bass and Joe Abbatantuono swing like a beast.The Seeker is far from a release built around the hustle and bustle of New York City as Nowell can translate a ballad with the best players working today. “You Don’t Know What Love Is” finds Nowell not just playing from the heart and phoning it in. Nowell digs deep while finding the special creative jones deep inside that some players spend an entire career searching for and never come close to finding. “Oy Matze Matze” has the cello of Dave Eggar providing the perfect counterpoint for a nice cultural subtle nuance not often heard on the more straight ahead release. Covering a Beatles tune such as “I Will” could spell certain musical death for a lesser talent. Again the cello of Dave Eggar provides a delightful lyrical counterpoint to Nowell intimate and somewhat wistful cover of the Lennon/McCartney classic. The release closes with a blistering take on “I Remember You” where both Nowell and Hirahara’s solos are proof positive they had to have spent a considerable amount of time coloring outside the lines as children but the end result is magnificent. Nir Felder turns in a first rate job on guitar as there are literally no weak links in this musical chain. An absolutely stellar release while seemingly old school still manages to side step definitive style categorization. The type of release that can drive a critic or a label executive nuts as they attempt to brand “their” product. Call it whatever lets you sleep well at night, a rose by any other name…A stellar release you may have missed!