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Noonward

Sean Noonan Alex Ward

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NOONWARD is the duo of Sean Noonan and Alex Ward, two composer/performers working at the intersections of rock, jazz, improvised music and contemporary classical composition. The duo’s collaboration began in informal improvised meetings, but when the chance to play a whole evening’s worth of music in public arose, both musicians elected to bring along some pieces from their extensive books of compositions to include as well. Inspired by how well this worked, Noonan and Ward then each began writing new pieces intended specifically for the duo. The results of this evolution can heard on this, their debut CD - which, as anyone familiar with Noonan and Ward’s individual bodies of work would expect, covers a wide and constantly surprising stylistic terrain, bound together by the utter distinctiveness of the musicians’ instrumental approaches. Pieces like Ward’s “Packed” and Noonan’s “Circle Of Willis” burst out of the starting gate with explosive rock energy; whilst by contrast Ward’s “Leaf Count” and Noonan’s “Funnel Weaver” establish in their opening sections a subdued and evocative melodicism. The improvisational rapport and exploration that provided the first point of contact for the musicians is fully on display throughout, but is equally fully integrated into the compositional structures - the pieces eschew head-solos-head predictability in favour of rich multi-part forms frequently carrying strong suggestions of an underlying narrative, to which Noonan’s vocal contributions on three pieces provide tantalisingly cryptic clues.

Alex Ward - Multi-instrumentalist British clarinet/guitarist (Thurston Moore Sonic Youth/Eugene Chadbourne/Derek Bailey)

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Drumavox

Sean Noonan Rhythmic Storyteller

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Rhythmic storyteller Sean Noonan brings together his eclectic drumming with a Sardinian a cappella choir on his adventurous and mesmerizing new album

Drumavox finds the “sonic griot” melding ancient traditions and folk tales with experimental techniques and irreverent songwriting in a whirlwind of folk and avant-jazz, offbeat rock and vocal harmonies

Drummer and composer Sean Noonan has long preferred the term “Rhythmic Storyteller” to describe his audacious, genre-defiant artistry. As a modern-day sonic griot he combines the most ancient of traditions with forward-seeking experimentation, gathering folk tales and traditional songs from various cultures and translating them through his own irreverent and thoroughly modern worldview.

With his latest project, Drumavox, Noonan once again bridges past and future with his trademark combination of musical exploration, offbeat humor, and eclectic vision. Bringing together Noonan’s drumset wizardry with a virtuosic and fearless Sardinian vocal quartet, Drumavox comprises the earliest musical instruments in the human arsenal – voice and percussion – in ways that our evolutionary ancestors could never have anticipated – and that will even surprise the most open-eared of contemporary listeners.

Out via the composer’s own Sean Noonan Music imprint, Drumavox features a gifted a cappella choir from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia: soprano Alice Madeddu, mezzo-soprano Eva Pagella, tenor Matteo Siddi, and bass Manuel Cossu. The relationship began in 2016 at the Sant’Anna Arresi Jazz Festival in Sardinia, as part of the premiere of “Zappanation,” Noonan’s outrageous rock opera dedicated to the spirit of Frank Zappa and Edgard Varèse.

Noonan had never met the members of the choir prior to the festival, so he was thrilled when he discovered their vocal abilities and willingness to experiment. Each brought novel elements of their own to the mix. Siddi in particular boasted a rock-star falsetto to rival Axl Rose, coupled with viral fame as the “Gesù di Cagliari” – an irreverent Jesus Christ impersonation that he’s performed in a variety of jaw-dropping contexts, including a send-up of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video.

“It’s fun to work with musicians that come from a different place and tradition,” Noonan raves. “These singers have done everything from opera to musical theater to rock music and folk singing. As a drummer it gave me absolute freedom to express myself, and as a composer I could take different kinds of risks and they enjoyed the challenge and never complained.”

Excited by the possibilities glimpsed during the “Zappanation” performances, Noonan culled pieces from throughout his diverse catalogue that could be adapted to the unusual format of drums and vocal quartet. While he has often narrated the stories behind his songs from behind the drumkit, Noonan found the collaboration opened up stunning new opportunities to exercise his gifts as a Rhythmic Storyteller and a collector of tales from any number of traditions.

“I’ve embraced what I call the wandering folk theory,” he explains. “I take stories and songs from different parts of the world and different places in history and I adapt them from my perspective as a drummer. I redevelop them as someone who comes from my specific musical background and allow them to evolve on their own so that I can present them through my own voice.”

The characters that populate Noonan’s madcap songs range from mythological dwarves that populate the salt mines of Eastern Europe to shape-shifting sea creatures to a beloved character actor imprinted on his brain from the popular TV shows of his childhood. All of these influences get tumbled together along with provocative humor and classic lullabies to create a singular and compelling sound that defies categorization, kaleidoscopically juggling elements of punk rock, avant-garde jazz, mutated folk traditions, contemporary classical music and off-kilter show tunes.

The four voices whirl dizzyingly around Noonan’s frenetic drumming to open “As the World Spins,” a tune that reflects on our tumultuous global crises from the perspective of the Sun speaking to a troubled Earth. (As this is written, that encompasses perennial worries like climate change along with pressing concerns like a contentious election cycle and a spreading pandemic, but the song is open-ended enough to deal with whatever troubles face us as you read these words.)

The whimsical “He Skarbnik He,” originally penned for “Zappanation” and recorded on Noonan’s 2017 album Man No Longer Me, pays homage to the mythical creatures that dwell in the salt mines of Poland, protecting the miners from danger. Intended to depict a descent into the claustrophobic mines, the piece gradually takes on a tribal, ritualistic tone. “Krasnoludki’s On My Mind” draws inspiration from another diminutive being from Poland mythology, showcasing the Sardinians’ brilliant ability to transform into fantastical characters.

“Silkie From the Sea,” named for the shape-shifting “seal people” of Scottish mythology, finds the vocalists conjuring whale sounds as the tune sinks us deep under the ocean’s wave, Noonan’s light tough on the drums suggesting the shimmer of sunlight on water. A more realistic but no less legendary character is the subject of “Don Knotts,” a challenging yet celebratory piece based on a 12-tone row and inspired by the iconic comedian.

Noonan’s sly sense of humor comes to the fore on “Pussy Cat’s Gone Wild,” written for “Zappanation” and sharing the titular composer’s love of eyebrow-raising innuendo. “Where Could I Go,” meanwhile, showcases a more tender and heartfelt side, as the choir’s rich harmonies evoke the folk tune “Wayfaring Stranger” as well as medieval vocal arrangements. Finally, the haunting “Bia” is based on a Russian lullaby for the wintertime, Noonan’s crashing percussion and soaring harmonies summoning a crystalline, frost-covered landscape.

Gorgeous and playful, provocative and soulful, traditional and adventurous: Drumavox pairs contrasts as startlingly and harmoniously as it pairs percussion and voice. Despite its limited palette, Noonan has discovered a rich and versatile vocabulary that he utilizes to weave vivid and striking tales.

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Tan Man's Hat

Sean Noonan Pavees Dance

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A drummer and composer whose music enthusiastically defies category, Sean Noonan prefers the title “Rhythmic Storyteller” – an apt description for a modern-day sonic griot who spins imaginative yarns in the ancient tradition of wandering minstrels while weaving captivating narrative tapestries via his unique polyrhythmic language. On Tan Man’s Hat, the second release by his harmolodic jazz-rock ensemble Pavees Dance, Noonan draws inspiration from the soul to the stars with his stunningly adventurous collaborators: original Can vocalist Malcolm Mooney, bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma (Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time), guitarist Ava Mendoza (Unnatural Ways) and keyboardist Alex Marcelo (Yusef Lateef).

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The Aqua Diva

Sean Noonan Rhythmic Storyteller

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The Aqua Diva

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The Aqua Diva Sean Noonan rhythmic storytelling Alex Marcelo piano Peter Bitenc bass

Beyond Jazz (Creative Avant Jazz Storytelling)

Bassist Peter Bitenc and Alex Marcelo—jazz legend Yusef Lateef’s pianist of choice—who were featured on the 2016 release Memorable Sticks, once again join Noonan on his new release The Aqua Diva, which is rooted in a wide spectrum of American musical, cultural, and lyrical themes. Noonan recasts a tune named for the iconic TV personality “Don Knotts” with experimentalist composer Conlon Nancarrow, in a 12-tone additive rhythm composition. “Where Would I Go” is a folk song adaptation of “Wayfaring Stranger,” and “Elijah Rocks” is a traditional spiritual. Noonan, an Irish-American drummer with a theatrical bent, scripts tracks 1, 4, 8, and 10 like the plot of a soap opera series. T.A.D. (The Aqua Diva) is stalked by Butterflies, who is jealous of Bubbles for having an affair with T.A.D. The saga ends with Butterflies murdering them in a swingers club’s swimming pool. Noonan’s original story has a direct correlation with his Zappanation Rock Opera, which was inspired by Frank Zappa and Edgard Varèse; it recently premiered in Germany.

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    A Sunny Day

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    When My Band Goes With Me on The Road

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    As The World Spins Around Me

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    Butterflies Away

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    Don Knotts

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    Elijah Rocks

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    Smoking Man

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    The Aqua Diva

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    Where Would I Go

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    Make Her Great Again

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Man No Longer Me

Sean Noonan Rhythmic Storyteller

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Man No Longer Me

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    Man vs. Machine

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    Not I

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    Pussy Cat's Gone Wild

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    Man No Longer Me

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    He Skarbnik He

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    Cupid's Packing Heat

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    I am Your Pineapple

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    Eat My Makeup

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    Queen of Kings

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    Lost in Guenter's Wald

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    Bia 4:46
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    Bia

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Memorable Sticks

Sean Noonan Rhythmic Storyteller

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Alex Marcelo - piano, fender rhodes Peter Bitenc - bass Sean Noonan - drums, vocals

The memorable stick is a symbol of power and authority in the salt mine, and is always in the Foreman's possession.

When the miners chip away at a wall of salt, the clatter of their pickaxes resounds from wall to wall, from floor to ceiling and, finding no outlet, soaks into the saline bedrock. The mine's walls remember everything – the voices of people, as well as horses. The memories residing in the walls can be awakened, upon being struck by the Rod. Sean Noonan penetrates the depths of Wieliczka's underworld, using a pair of magical drumsticks, and reveals the Hidden Treasures guarded by Skarbnik, the treasurer of that mine. Noonan encounters an apparition – the White Lady, Wieliczka, along with her dwarfs – who beseeches him, in tears, to take her from the salt mine.

Through the power of the Immortal Rod, they are transported to South Africa where, in a culminating moment, we hear songs of praise and greeting (Nangadef) for the great Zulu king, Shaka.

Does the journey end here? Or, perhaps, is this the beginning, or is it the end? (S. Noonan / R. Wojciul) credits released February 24, 2016

All compositions & lyrics by Sean Noonan (SPNoonan ASCAP)

Recorded April 18th, 2015 at Atlantic Recording Sound in New York (U.S.A.)

Recording engineer: Diko Shoturma (Atlantic) Mix: Michał Kupicz Master: Graemme Brown (Zen Mastering) Design: For Tune® Cover photo: Depositphotos Other photos: Daniele Ballotta Translations: Charles White

Special thanks are always to my extended family, all musicians, Monika and Tonic for their support and perseverance.

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Pavees Dance: There's Always the Night

Sean Noonan Malcolm Mooney (CAN)

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Pavees Dance: There's Always the Night

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“a musical journey full of poetry and magic, designed for the most curious ears and eyes." Pascal Bussy, author of the definitive biography of Can

In 2014, premieres a new collaboration, Sean Noonan Pavees Dance featuring Malcolm Mooney, original singer from CAN, Jamaaladeen Tacuma bass, and Aram Bajakian guitar

In Pavees Dance, Noonan describes himself as an "Irish griot", one who collects tales, legends, and life stories over the course of his journeys and transforms them into raw material, not only from drumming, but in all of his music. Together with Aram Bajakian, his alter ego, and Jamaaladeen Tacuma, mutant bassist from Ornette Coleman's Primetime, they track down Malcolm Mooney, the original Can singer (back to "Monster Movie"). The latter remains famous for having been the shooting-star voice, half Soul, half psychedelic, of one of the more influential experimental Rock bands in History.

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    There's Always the Night

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    Quick Pick-Pavees Dance Malcolm Mooney

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    Moonwalk-Pavees Dance Malcolm Mooney

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    No Strings Attached-Pavees Dance Malcolm Mooney

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    Portrait of a Heartless Lover

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    Man on the Moon

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In the Ring

Sean Noonan

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In the Ring

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Rounding out the trilogy of albums that he has released since the start of 2014, drummer/ composer and storyteller Sean Noonan released, In the Ring is the second album in Noonan’s A Gambler's Hand chamber music series, in which Noonan writes for and performs with the NY-based Momenta Quartet: Emilie-Anne Gendron and Adda Kridler on violins, Stephanie Griffin on viola, and Michael Haas on cello.

On In the Ring, as he did on A Gambler’s Hand, Noonan utilizes the strings as extensions of his own limbs, both conceptually and literally. “I learned a lot from both making and touring with A Gambler’s Hand in how a string quartet strives to be one organism and similar to how I condition myself on the drum kit. As my compositions and performance on the drums were in effect a reflections and extension of one another, “ explains the drummer. “Yes both works belong to the same chamber series but however there is an aesthetical difference between In the Ring and A Gambler’s Hand. The relationship that I’ve established between the strings and myself behind the drums remains the central musical core of the two projects.”

On his latest album, the prolific Noonan presents a collection of song cycles that together tell a story about the transformation of a man who get tickled by a sunbeam one morning on a mountain top, and who, as the story progresses, wanders and gets lost in a desert and transforms into a coyote. The coyote hitches a ride from the American folk hero Casey Jones, whose train crashes at the bottom of the sea, where the coyote transforms into the Celtic mythological creature known as a Silkie, and eventually back into his human form. As a result of his adventures, he loses his shadow; he can only reclaim it by challenging his own shadow to a round of shadow boxing In the Ring.

“This song cycle is intented to be performed in sequence as a single entity, and is a reflection of the American cultural melting pot experience ,” says Noonan. “Often after riding the C Train in Brooklyn and wandering around the planet I found myself collecting stories and finding characters so much they invited me to dinner. Sometimes at the table there were folk heroes and even later I had tea later with Alex Lomax.

Noonan incorporates cultural archtypes from a variety of sources, such as Casey Jones, and the Native American trickster/deity, Coyote, into his stories to illustrate some common themes that he’s discovered in his personal explorations.

In the end I noticed a similar pattern that range from John Henry to Pecos Bill and even Rocky Marciano. The story transcends time and place; its themes are derived from sources around America, but it’s also very personal. I wish I started doing all of this long a go and it was when I went to Mali in 2009 that I became to realize the importance of my job as an enthnomusicologist on a grant assignment.

In the Ring is launched by Noonan’s signature storytelling. Rather than playing the role of observant narrator, his poetic approach reflects the innermost thoughts of his protagonist as he experiences his transformation from Man to Coyoteman, to Silkie, and back to Man. From track to track, as the story progresses, the Momenta Quartet alternately takes center stage and provides atmospheric support for Noonan’s graceful recitations, weaving and embellishing a musical tapestry that is as integral to the story as are Noonan’s own drumming and lyrical presentation. This is neither background music nor soundtrack, but an ethereal and innovative contribution to Noonan’s spoken word performance.

“To be able to create through compositional music you really have to dedicate yourself exclusively in understanding Western classical music tradition, just as to play jazz which I spent more part of my life discovering,” says Noonan. In 2009, I took a two year drumming sabbatical to study classical composition at the Aaron Copland School of Music. During this period I completely ignored my jazz roots, and put aside the influences of drummers like Jack DeJohnette, Tony Williams, and Ed Thigpen, in order to learn from Western tonal innovators such as Stradella, Haydn, Beethoven and post tonal innovators Stravinsky, Bartok, Nancarrow and Ives. My questions were, what really made them tick, and what they went through as they composed. I imagined myself conversing with them to get answers to my questions, along with spending innumerable amounts of time studying scores and listening, listening, and studying scores. I had fun with this.”

Noonan composed the pieces on In the Ring with an ear to transforming various story elements into aural pictures that is immediate from the first track “Prelude to the Ring,” which captures the vast openness of a desert with separation and space provided by the ever accending and descending harmonics by the quartet. “Story of Jones,” feels like your riding high on top of a train in an accellerando into chaos piloted by the famous Casey Jone's speed demon whose crash this time throws Coyoteman straight to the bottom of the Salt Lake Line. After he witnesses John Henry's death by Big Steam it is the “Reincarnation of Several Hammers” that transfors all the hammers of the Earth to re-awake and reincarnate to defeat Big Steam and evil machine who killed John Henry the matyr of the working man. “The Final Conflict” the shadow boxing match; mimicked in right and left channels is narrated by boxing commentators apparitions from aka “Rumble in the Jungle”

“This album is multi-dimensionsal,” states Noonan. “In addition to the story, there is still another whole world to experience on In the Ring, if one wishes to explore the compositional development process, or harmonic, textural and melodic expansion of the numerous leifmotifs. I usually emphasize this with all kinds of percussion instruments, so often the drum kit is treated like a jazz instrument, often assuming the role as a soloist, improvising another layer of counterpoint over the rich textures played by the strings. I approached In the Ring to similar to how Gene Krupa really approached his role as the lead solo instrument in his orchestra. He is a heroe now for me and think that drum battle against his shadow Buddy Rich he still having at this moment.

Noonan’s dual passions – his “wandering” folk music theory and the utilization of strings as an extension of the drum kit – have come together on In the Ring in 15 tracks that consist of never before heard songs as well as a reworking of several works from previous projects. Noonan explains: “I really wanted to re-structure and further develop the musical ideas from older pieces like ‘Morpheus,’ ‘Dr. Sleepytime,’ and ‘Story of Jones, originally featured on the albums Stories to Tell and Boxing Dreams, performed by jazz and world musicians way back then before I knew how to truly compose. But I could even hear how I wanted to structure those compositions and and as a result they appear as such on In the Ring,” he discloses.

In the Ring is packaged in a 50 page portrait photo book animating all Noonan's poems. Both Pavees Dance and Bruised by Noon also included a striking visual companion booklet, the former featuring drawings and painting by Malcolm Mooney, who has developed a career as a visual artist over the past several decades, and the latter featuring abstract images in subtle shades of gray with a hazy vellum overlay, which are, in fact, x-rays of Noonan's shattered limbs after a nearly fatal car accident while on tour in Italy in 2003. Both of those books also feature lyrics and poetry, as does the one that accompanies In the Ring, which also includes photos by Dirk Eusterbrock, whose work has been featured in such outlets as Playboy, Muzikexpress, and Alternative Press, with special effects created by makeup artist April Townes.

“Lyrics and poetry are abstract but music is the consequence everyone can connect with. They don’t show the audience what I am seeing when I write them, or when I compose the music,” explains Noonan. “I’ve begun to include books as visual representations of the stories conveyed on these projects, so that anyone can experience the vision that inspired me.”

“Now that I’ve done these two albums, I feel like I want to continue to compose for the string quartet for the rest of my life, since it offers such infinite possibilities,” Noonan concludes. “Currently I am sketching the ‘Skarbnik Suites,’ which will be recorded in London at the end of my UK tour this November, and I’m already working on a series of works for my I.Q. Quartet, that are pure improv concepts.” credits released 21 October 2014

Sean Noonan drummer composer vocals NY-based Momenta Quartet: Emilie-Anne Gendron and Adda Kridler on violins, Stephanie Griffin on viola, and Michael Haas on cello.

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    Prelude to the Ring

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    Licked-n-Skipped-n-Tripped

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    Lying Under the Sea-In the Ring String Quartet

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    Reincarnation of Several Hammers--In the Ring String Quartet

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    There's Always the Night

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