Sean Nowell

Seeker

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Some American politicians like to say that their party or organization is a "big tent," meaning that it welcomes (or at least claims to welcome) a variety of perspectives and viewpoints. And ideally, the big tent philosophy should also prevail in jazz -- which needs to have a place for artists who are boldly experimental as well as artists who are more derivative and tradition-minded. Tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell shows himself to be one of jazz' more derivative artists on The Seeker, although he is enjoyably derivative. This 47-minute CD was recorded in 2008, but stylistically, it could have been recorded 40 or 45 years earlier; Nowell favors straight-ahead, acoustic-oriented post-bop, drawing on influences like John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Pharoah Sanders, and Joe Henderson. The Young Lion (who is also heard on clarinet and flute) doesn't pretend to be groundbreaking, but he certainly doesn't lack chops or passion. In fact, the Alabama native plays with plenty of conviction on four original pieces as well as on two Tin Pan Alley warhorses ("I Remember You" and "You Don't Know What Love Is"), the Beatles' "I Will," and the traditional Jewish song "Oy Matze Matze." The Seeker's biggest flaw is non-musical; Posi-Tone doesn't offer any liner notes. Considering that Nowell doesn't have a huge catalog and isn't a major name in jazz (at least as of 2009), failing to provide liner notes was not a smart move on Posi-Tone's part. But the lack of liner notes -- although unwise from a marketing/promotional standpoint -- doesn't make Nowell's playing any less noteworthy. The Seeker clearly demonstrates that derivative albums can also be solid, nicely executed albums.

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