Sean Noonan: A Gambler’s Hand

Sean Noonan is never boring. His last few records can accurately be described as Afro-Celtic punk-jazz with a fixation on boxing. A Gambler’s Hand is a concept album about an Irish gambler entombed behind a wall, and it features a string quartet and Noonan’s pugilistic drumming. The string arrangements are reliably bold, frequently beautiful and remarkably free of cliché (Noonan cites Bartók, Cowell, Nancarrow and Zorn as influences). But perhaps his masterstroke here was recruiting top-notch new-music cohorts like violinist Tom Swafford and violist Leanne Darling, who are steeped in the disciplined Euro-classical canon but live and breathe the intellectual flex of jazz. Be it the obsessive syncopation of “Caught in the Act,” the lush timbre-meld of “I Feel the Clouds” or the chamber stomp of “Courage Unleashed,” this is starkly original music that is different from Noonan’s previous starkly original music.