Drummer/composer Sean Noonan sees himself as a modern-day sonic griot. In the spirit of those traveling African storytellers, Noonan wanders the world gathering stories, legends, and folklore like a punk-jazz Alan Lomax. The treasures that he finds along the way are filtered through his distinctive vision to become the unpredictable and far-ranging sounds of Noonan’s wide-spectrum music, which combines the eloquence of an Irish bard, the narrative rhythms of Samuel Beckett, and the raw physicality of a street-smart boxer.
An Irish-American drummer with a theatrical bent and a passion for African rhythms, Noonan’s excursions are both geographical, taking him to far-flung corners of the world to study cultural and conceptual traditions as he explores the outer limits of music to soak in harmolodic jazz, bleeding-edge rock or avant-garde classical influences. His “wandering folk” theory captures the elusiveness of ever-evolving world music traditions and reorients them through his own particular lens.
That nomadic muse has led Noonan in a wealth of unexpected directions, resulting in an explosion of dynamic releases and projects spanning more than 19 albums and hundreds of performances in more than a dozen countries, including such international festivals asVilnius Jazz Festival, Vancouver Jazz, Kaltern Pop Festival, American Film Festival, Timezone Festival, EFG London Jazz, Bergen Natt Jazz,Incubate and Jazz Liege. He’s worked with an incredible array of artists from across the literal and musical map, including Abdoulaye Diabaté, Marc Ribot, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Mat Maneri, Susan McKeown, and Can’s Malcolm Mooney.
The results take on many forms, each as surprising and inventive as the last: currently they include the Pavees Electric Trio, with U.K.-based keyboardist Johnny Richards and bassist Michael Bardon, is the latest chapter in Noonan’s Pavees Dance series combining funk, punk and jazz with the spirit of Irish wayfarers; Zappanation, a 10-piece ensemble project ionizing the music of Frank Zappa and Edgard Varèse; Bartalk, a spasmodic solo drum performance art piece; the Brooklyn Lager Trio, a Bavarian punk-jazz sax/guitar/drums triad (some believe Noonan is the reincarnation of King Ludwig II, the last Bavarian monarch); or his ongoing series of drum set concertos for orchestra.
It all began in the city of Brockton, Massachusetts, hometown of legendary boxers Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler – perhaps providing some explanation for the drummer’s fighting spirit. Noonan left Brockton to study Music Education at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and earned his Masters in Music Composition from the Aaron Copland Music School in Queens, NY. He spent part of those years on Sanibel Island, Florida, backing legendary Hollywood songstress Marni Nixon – an unlikely forge for the theatricality he would later bring to his own performances.
Noonan made his recording debut with the acoustic piano trio date Trio Jazz, featuring bassist/educator John Lockwood of The Fringe. He settled in New York City in 1999, quickly integrating himself into the fruitful underground scene emerging from the famed Knitting Factory. He formed the notable jazz-punk trio THE HUB with bassist Tim Dahl and saxophonist Paul-Alexandre Meurens as well as an eclectic duo project with guitarist Aram Bajakian, but his path was diverted four years later when a near-fatal car wreck in Italy led to a long period of recovery and a dedication to combining his two musical loves: jazz and African rhythms.
The ensuing sonic wanderlust fueled a 2008 trek to Bamako, Mali, to gain a first-hand experience of West African griot traditions alongside Malian singer/guitarist Abdoulaye Diabaté. That trip culminated in the multi-cultural album Boxing Dreams, one manifestation of Noonan’s amorphous Afro-Celtic punk-jazz project Brewed By Noon, which released five disparate albums between 2006 and 2011 and was the subject of filmmaker Tom Asma’s documentary Being Brewed By Noon.
Noonan’s approach can be heard at its most distilled on 2014’s Bruised By Noon, a solo drum and spoken word album relating gambler Finny Finnegan’s 12-round battle with a resolute wall. That was just one part of a trilogy of head-spinningly diverse but interconnected albums released that year, along with In the Ring, a song cycle drawing inspiration from American experimentalists Henry Cowell and Conlon Nancarrow that treated New York’s Momenta String Quartet as an extension of the drum set; and Pavees Dance: There’s Always the Night, a free-funk trio with legendary bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, a veteran of Ornette Coleman’s electric Prime Time band, and Lou Reed’s last guitarist, Aram Bajakian, performing songs by Noonan with lyrics by infamous Can frontman Malcolm Mooney.
Johnny Richards (keyboards), Michael Bardon (bass), Sean Noonan (drums)