Audio Mixer: Simon Kummer.
Liner Note Author: Sean Noonan.
Recording information: Brooklyn Recording, Brooklyn, NY (06/06/2011).
Those expecting a direct follow-up to Sean Noonan's 2008 album Boxing Dreams are in for a surprise on A Gambler's Hand. Here he's traded punk jazz's wailing guitars, skittering beats, funked-up basses, and frenetic visceral energy for his virtuosic drumming with a string quartet. Just as he was able to cohere the various dynamic elements of Boxing Dreams into a focused series of smaller narratives, here he takes the textural, sonorous, and harmonic qualities of strings and combines them with the propulsive and dynamic possibilities of his drums to create an extended single narrative. A Gambler's Hand -- based on a short story-- is soon to be a film for which this recording will serve as a score. It crosses lines between jazz, third stream, and classical music even as it observes them. Noonan embraces the seams between modernist and avant music's compositional strategies from the 20th century; he finds his way to slot them into 21st century compositional notions and modern jazz's improvisational schemas. What's more, Noonan and his string quartet -- Tom Swafford and Patti Kilroy, violins; Leanne Darling, viola; David West, cello -- are hardly academic in their approach. The drummer is a musical terrorist at heart. That said, this is not a mess of atonal skronk and scree (though dissonance does make itself properly known in places), but a series of well-conceived and expertly arranged and performed pieces that reveal not merely an inner logic, but an external one as well. The basic story -- of Pavee, a gambler who is locked behind a wall -- may not tell itself literally, but the logic at work in the way these pieces interact and the logic with which they move from one to another is inescapable even in a casual listening encounter. Noonan's sense of drama is canny, but hardly obvious. His balancing act occurs on the line where conventional notions of beauty, dynamic, rhythmic shifts, and timbral explorations are sophisticated yet full of emotion. The interplay between the more formally composed aspects of these ten pieces and the improvisational ones is organic. Humor and chaos have their place in grounding the work as a whole, but it's the tension that builds and resolves as this musical story unfolds that gives it heft. A Gambler's Hand will prove a delight for anyone interested in the fine body of work Noonan has been assembling this last decade, and for those who seek more formal encounters between jazz, avant, and classical musics. ~ Thom Jurek