Sebastian Noelle – Shelter (2016)

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A star performer in Darcy James Argue’s big ol’ band, jazz guitarist Sebastian Noelle is also a prodigious talent in his own right. A dearth of records under his own name might be why Noelle isn’t a better know quantity but earlier this month he took a big step toward remedying that. Shelter ( Fresh Sound New Talent) is the German-born, NYC-residing Noelle’s third release, and the first since 2011’s underrated Koan.

Noelle shares the melodic sweetness of contemporary Torben Waldorff (as well as his bass player Matt Clohesy) and the mature, contemporary intricacies of Kurt Rosenwinkel or the late keyboardist Don Grolnick. Ultimately, though, he has his own angular and very modern approach that like those others, pushes jazz forward. Besides Clohesy, Noelle’s current, high-powered quintet also includes Marc Mommaas (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano) and Dan Weiss (drums).

Right off, the potency in Noelle’s composing pen shows up. “Seven Up” might have an air of understatement to it, but there’s a lot going on with it that you’re bound to miss unless you actively listen: the staggered motion and how rhythm and melody appear to be moving on different wave lengths but in truth, they’re very much tied together. The guitar solo stands in fluid relief to the choppy cadence churning underneath, and Mitchell turns in a fluent discourse, too. “Unlikely Heroes” at first seems structured much like “Seven Up” but takes a surprising turn in the middle when Weiss opens up the cymbals and turns into a rock drummer. Noelle picks up on the vibe and leaves a stinging trail of notes. “Naphta vs. Settembrini,” taken from characters of the classic novel Magic Mountain, also displays opposing personalities, perhaps portraying the philosophical differences between the two names in the title.

The prancing “Home In A Strange Land” sports stimulating back-and-forth between Noelle and Mommaas in the extended bridge. “Another Spring” is a straight up ballad that seems to deepen with each listen. “Rolling With The Punches” enters with a little bombast, making way for the main progression, a symphony-like build of momentum punctuated by periods of calm.

“Day Off” is a return to the litheness of before, paced by Mommaas’s playful sax, and when Noelle’s pillow notes follow, it sounds like a tune that could have found a home on Bright Size Life. Mitchell puts forth a stellar piano turn on “Mirror Lake,” and in another one of those unanticipated developments, Mommaas delivers his solo over a temporary rock beat.

Indian folk music is finding its way into a lot of jazz of late, and that includes Noelle’s music. But instead of force-fitting it into his own conception, he is able to fully integrate its features, done very effectively on the traditional Hindustani classical raga “Ahir Bhairiv.”

Nothing is dissonant in Sebastian Noelle’s songs, but he manages to express his colorful harmonies in avant-garde ways. It’s what makes him so intriguing beyond being a highly advanced guitar player. Shelter strongly suggests that all this time he’s spent honing his craft have bore fruit, but it also makes clear that five years seems too long between releases when the fruit sounds so sweet.

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