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Sean Noonan Pavees Dance
Tan Man’s Hat Richard Foster , May 10th, 2019 09:43

Former Can singer Malcolm Mooney joins Sean Noonan Pavees Dance for a bit of acid-fried cosmic exploration, summoning up all that is good in jazz-prog, according to Richard Foster

“We are travellers, not knowing that the starship is our planet.” Singer Malcolm Mooney’s line, which introduces the magnificent opener ‘Boldly Going’, is as good a summary as you will get of the new record by Sean Noonan Pavees Dance. Indeed after just five minutes, the listener will feel they are grappling with the entire history of jazz rock - cut up with choice snippets of that recent LP documenting the telephone calls of English eccentric and heated clothing inventor, Captain Maurice Seddon.

Spinning Tan Man’s Hat is like listening to a “difficult” play on the radio. There are plenty of theatrics, both sonic and spoken. In this setting Mooney plays a very effective King Lear, howling at any phenomena to hand (gravity, space, earth, winter, martians), whilst the band get through their chops. With all the key changes, the feeling of being somewhere north-west of Henry Cow is never far away. But there’s a virtuosity and wit on this album that is very refreshing. The splendid key playing by Yusef Lateef’s regular collaborator Alex Marcelo is a key focal point and the intermittent Hammond stabs come on on like Mr Fantasy-era Stevie Winwood. After a while the listener should resign themselves to not understanding the half of it – all the better to luxuriate in the record’s mercurial, magpie nature. After all, who but a churl could refuse the beautiful soul-shuffle of the title track?

Now for the C word. It would be impossible to ignore, given the presence of Mr Mooney. Yes, there are passages that strongly remind you of Rite Time-era Can, though that may be just Mooney’s singular approach to his task. In fact, now and again you catch a moment or two of pure Monster Movie zen. Drawing on past energies (and playing the naughty brother to Lonnie Holley’s more gentle extraterrestrial explorations of space), Mooney’s "streams of focus" act as both a focal point and mood conductor for his fellow musicians to anchor themselves around. ‘Tell Me’ has a sharpness and wit in some passages that allow a full zone out, helped considerably by Ava Mendoza channelling Michael Karoli and Noonan’s shuffling beat.

When Sean Noonan does make a bow on vocals the change of mood is immediately noticeable. Compared with the previous tracks, the whimsical ragtime intro of ‘Turn Me Over’ sounds like something off Van Dyke Parks’ Discover America. But Mooney can’t keep out of the action for long. As soon as he turns up on the track there is a discernible return to chaos and the remaining six minutes or so are a colourful jumble sale of all that is good in jazz-prog.