Sean Moran Small Elephant Band – Tusk (2013)

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As a insatiably open minded guitarist and composer, maybe it was inevitable that someday Sean Moran would make a record featuring his nylon six-string guitar in a setting alien to that instrument. Surely, few others would have had the inspiration much less the daring to do so. Moran, after all, is a member of both the chamber jazz quartet Four Bags and the experimental metal trio Bassoon. Moran’s Small Elephant Band does employ some elements of chamber jazz. Experimental metal? No relation whatsoever.

Tusk (which also has no relation whatsoever to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours follow-up) represents a long-overdue debut of Moran as the leader, and he used this occasion to apply his composing abilities and put to use all that training he received on that nylon-stringed guitar, applying the classical and flamenco style to avant-garde compositions in a jazz quintet. It’s how he uses this quintet that sets the Small Elephant Band apart from nearly every other band: clarinetist Michael McGinnis shoulders much of the responsibilities for expressing the thematic lines, and his resonant blackwood horn is fine for that. Rueben Radding’s bass plays not just a low-end pulse, but also forms contrapuntal lines that discreetly add depth to Moran’s compositions. Chris Dingman’s vibes often bridges the two together, and he’s a very versatile and erudite performer. Harris Eisenstadt, the ace drummer of Canada Day fame, is perhaps the most technically impressive of anyone in the room, sensing when is the right time to flow with the main tempo, and when to provide his own counterparts to it. The presence of two Canada Day members (Dingman and Canada Day leader Eisenstadt) suggests some similarities to that band, and yes, there are a lot of the non-jazz chord progressions and tempos.

Maybe it’s because the Moran plays the same instrument as Liberty Ellman in an avant jazz setting, but there’s also some Henry Threadgill impressions left, especially on a track like “Circle One, Two,” which move dynamically from one “interval block” to another, freely allowing the band members to improvise within the context of those blocks. “Monkeytown” also evokes Threadgill in how the opposing rhythms are skillfully managed and despite a consistent pulse, the song constantly moves forward.

Moran’s arrangements are smart; he regularly pairs up among him, Dingman, Radding and McGinnis, and as in the case of the introspective, “Moon Reflected,” switches the pairings and countermelodies to keep the song in motion. “Year of the Snake” begins with a unique call and response between McGinnis on bass clarinet and Eisenstadt. Moran takes over for McGinnis but instead of trading fours with Eisenstadt, they improvise alongside each other. Another syncopated beat, this time constructed by Moran, Radding and Dingman, provides a pulse over which McGinnis solos.

The final track “To The Edge Of The World” is dispersed, almost ambient with a bowed bass and the nylon string forming a low drone. Dingman’s vibes hint at Miles Davis’ early fusion number “Great Expectations” and Radding’s a capella spot features his creaky, bowed bass played with a great deal of sensitivity.

With music so multi-dimensional and employing such unusual chord progressions and structure, the music on this album isn’t necessarily the easiest to describe. However, “ingenuity” is an adjective I keep coming back to describe Sean Moran and his Small Elephant Band’s Tusk.

Tusk becomes available for sale April 1, by NCM East Records. Visit Sean Moran’s website for more info.

[amazon_link id=”B00BN7P00O” target=”_blank” ]SEAN MORAN SMALL ELEPHANT BAND- TUSK (JAZZ)[/amazon_link]
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S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at [email protected] .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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