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New Release From D.C. Area Guitarist Shawn Purcell, “180”



Guitarist and JGT contributor Zakk Jones reviews guitarist Shawn Purcell’s last album, “180”.

D.C. area guitarist Shawn Purcell has been a rising name in modern jazz as a prolific performer, composer, and educator. Since the mid-90’s he has been a member of the prestigious U.S. military big bands “The Airmen of Note” and the Navy “Commodores”, respectively. As an educator, Purcell currently serves as an adjunct professor of jazz studies at George Mason University and has led masterclasses and workshops across the country. With a long recorded history as a sideman with artists like Ben Patterson, Chip McNeill, and Alan Baylock, Shawn has proven to be a formidable asset to any band. He is releasing his second album as a leader, “180”, slated to drop on September 16th through Origin Records. 180 finds Shawn in an organ trio setting with organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Jason Tiemann. The group is augmented at times by vocalist Darden Purcell and trombonist Ben Patterson, both of whom Shawn has worked with extensively over the years as a sideman. 

The 11-track album opens with a Purcell original that sets the tone for what’s to come–sophisticated playing that gracefully marries the classic swinging organ trio tradition with fiery rock and fusion elements. Cat and Mouse exemplifies this duality with a bop-like melody over a distorted power-chord ostinato. The trio holds nothing back, while still finding plenty of room to grow and develop throughout each solo. 180, the title track, highlights Shawn’s command of modern bebop-influenced language over a 16-bar blues. 

Where the first two tracks displayed the group’s ability to swing together, Fond Illusion gives the band a chance to stretch on a straight eighth, odd-metered, form. Purcell is not afraid to employ guitar effects tastefully and this track finds his instrument sounding like a synthesizer, making his already effortless playing that much more alluring. 

The only song not penned by Purcell, “A Time For Love”, is a plaintive ballad beautifully sung by Darden Purcell. Pat’s brief but powerful intro brings the listener into the lush world of his organ playing, providing a natural breath from the album’s energetic first three tracks. 

ChickaD, a playful contrafact on Tadd Dameron’s “Lady Bird”, finds the band swingin’ hard throughout as Shawn and Pat have their way with these classic chord changes. The following track is another example of Shawn adapting existing harmonic progressions and presenting them in a completely new context. This time it’s over John Coltrane’s infamously challenging “26-2”. While Coltrane’s composition is fast and marathon-like, Shawn slows it down with a playful 6/8 Afro-Cuban feel perfectly fitting of its new name–A Long Stroll. 

A twisted take on the perennial “rhythm changes”, Hoodang takes no prisoners. Particularly exciting are the last few choruses where everyone in the trio gets to trade sections and interact seamlessly with each other. 

Little Tori Girl exemplifies the organ trio’s ability to embrace space and subtlety, all while maintaining the perfect amount of intensity. Tiemann’s brush playing and Bianchi’s tasteful comping provides the backdrop for Purcell’s flowing lines.

A large part of the organ tradition comes from the soul-jazz era, which merged hard bop with gospel, soul, blues, and eventually funk and rock–think Booker T & and M.G.’s or Dr. Lonnie Smith. Window Games takes this lineage and stretches it even further with funky yet angular rhythms and a brooding effects-driven guitar melody. Tiemann proves that no matter the groove, style, or tempo, he can play sensitively and patiently or intensely and fiercely at the drop of a dime. 

Soul Blue features an impressive soli section written by Shawn, augmented by Darden’s vocalization and Ben Patterson on trombone. Bianchi’s persistently driving bass lines and responsive comping reminds us of the double duty he executes with mastery as an organist. 

Aptly titled, Search and Destroy, gives the listener one last chance to hear this fantastic organ trio doing what it does best–bringing some serious heat behind each beat. Shawn’s clean and articulate lines segue into a drum solo vamp where Tiemann lets loose.

Shawn Purcell’s “180” is full of twists and turns that take the listener through the entire history of organ trio possibilities while pointing effortlessly to the future of the idiom. His talents as a guitarist, improviser, and composer are on full display, while still serving the music and his bandmates in an honest and musical way. There is no doubt that this record will make a lasting impression on each listener, who will all be asking Shawn “so when’s the next one?”.

Check it out HERE.

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