Drummer-composers seldom write as intricate, elaborate, or haunting music as Sean Noonan does. The powerhouse drummer draws equally on Bartok, early Can, jazz, Balkan and avant garde theatre music. Thematically, he’s drawn to mythology and in particular the archetypal imagery of his Celtic heritage. His latest album, Memorable Sticks – streaming at Bandcamp – is a twisted, phantasmagorical trio suite with Alex Marcelo on piano and Peter Bitenc on bass, the composer himself often adding surrealistic spoken-word or sung interludes. The storyline involves a treasure buried deep in an Eastern European salt mine, a magic wand channeled by the drummer’s sticks, and a seemingly happy ending brought about by an African teleportation rescue mission. He and the band are playing the album release show tomorrow night, July 20 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub. General admission is $15.
The opening track, Miala Baba stalks along with carnivalesque variations on an emphatic chromatic riff, then goes out into the stratosphere, Noonan’s breathless spoken-word interlude adding surreal menace. It wouldn’t be out of place on pianist Frank Carlberg’s marvelously creepy Tivoli Trio album. The second number, Hidden Treasures, works off an uneasily coy, Errol Garner-like riff into chugging postbop, then clenched-teeth circularity, up to a macabre, drum-fueled peak.
The title track edges toward a Monk-like stroll out of horror-film music-box harmonies, awash in Noonan’s coloristic cymbals and jagged bass drum attack, shifting in and our of focus, up to a funhour-mirror playground jump-rope theme of sorts. With its carefully waltzing groove, White Lady Bieliczka is more delicate, a blend of elegant bluesy phrasing and otherworldly chromatic vamps, Tolkien’s Galadriel in Jason’s hockey mask. The trio pick up the pace with the briskly shuffling Zabka, Bitenc adding the occasional blackly amusing phrase as the piano circles and stabs in an elegant duel with the drums – with a brooding art-rock interlude straight out of Procol Harum.
Marcelo switches to Rhodes electric piano for Nangadef, a detour into psychedelic soul, like Roy Ayers at his most darkly cinematic.“No reverb to that nation,” Noonan intones drolly at one point. “How are you? I’m partially free.” They wind up the suite with Shaka, winding in and out of altered latin funk. What’s most impressive, and enjoyable about this album is that as far outside as some of the trio’s improvisations go, nobody in the band overplays. The commitment to overall ambience, and mystery, and dark intensity is unwavering. Has there been an album so nonchalantly creepy released this year? That would be hard to imagine.