Guitarist Shawn Purcell has enjoyed a busy career with 15 years as a member of the military Big Bands in Washington DC. From 1996-2004, he was the guitarist in the US Air Force premier jazz ensemble, The Airmen of Note. During his time with “The Note,” Purcell performed throughout the world, including England, Germany, Turkey, Luxembourg, The Azores, Belgium, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Italy, Kuwait and Bahrain. This tradition continues with Purcell currently holding the guitar slot with the Washington DC-based US Navy Band “Commodores” jazz ensemble. He has additionally enjoyed a healthy career as a sideman on nearly thirty recordings, including Steve Fidyk‘s releases Heads Up! (Posi-Tone Records, 2014) and Allied Forces (Posi-Tone Records, 2016), Alan Baylock Jazz Orchestra‘s Prime Time (Self-Produced, 2014) featuring trumpeter Doc Severinsen, Darden Purcell‘s Easy Living (Armored Records, 2009) and Where the Blue Begins (Armored Records, 2016) and Ben Patterson Jazz Orchestra’s Vital Frequencies (Bonecat, 2016) featuring saxophonist Chris Potter. Yes, busy. Purcell, after a long-awaited and fruitful career as a sideman, is finally releasing his debut recording Symmetricity on Armored Records, featuring an all-star line-up of friends and family including, Darden Purcell, Luis Hernandez, Todd Simon, Regan Brough and Stockton Helbing.
The album kicks off with the delicious “Swirl,” a Purcell original composition that begins with an exciting tutti figure which is angular and plays with intervallic relationships. Hernandez’s solo takes the intervallic theme and develops it with enthusiasm. His melodies build in the saxophone’s register as Purcell’s smart guitar voicings frame his lines, and Helbing and Brough provide a beautiful bouncing swing feel. For his guitar solo, Purcell effects his semi-hollow guitar with a little chorus and warm distortion, which gives his playing even more of a modern edge. His lines are flowing as he weaves between the harmonic foundation, each idea building into the next in a fluid rhythmic swing feel. Helbing’s solo follows; the drum kit sings as he explores multiple cross-rhythms and rhythmic motifs. He sets up the straight-eight introduction feel as the band enters for the transition to the melody. “Swirl” is a strong musical statement by Purcell, both as a composer and player.
“Red Velvet Cake” is a feel-good selection, penned by Purcell with a funky jazz feel. Helbing’s groove on this one is outstanding, relaxed, in the pocket, and optimistic. Purcell’s melody and tone fill the space with a mixture of chords and single notes. The ensemble figure builds the energy, and the connection between the players can be heard in their synchronized performance. Purcell’s solo is a playful game of chromatic lines and catchy blues riffs, both combining to show his mastery of building a musical improvisation that is filled with the rich sounds of jazz history and modern sensibilities. Simon’s solo dances over Brough’s warm bass tone. His multiple octave arpeggios are impressive, as are his methodical building of the energy of his solo. Brough’s warm bass sound fills the airwaves next. His solo shows dexterity and musicality. The finesse and listening on this album are undoubtedly deep and intense, and “Red Velvet Cake,” aptly displays this quality.
It’s always nice when an artist takes time to develop their sound on the bandstand, and Purcell certainly falls into that category. Symmetricity may have been a long time in the making, but this journeyman made it all worthwhile.
Track Listing: Swirl; Steady Comin’ At Ya; Red Velvet Cake; A Bela; Symmetricity In The Linear Evolution; You, and You Alone, Missed It By An Inch; Here’s that Rainy Day; ‘Trane-ing Wheels; Norm’s View.
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