Sean Noonan: Drumavox

In brief:
"It somehow needs a video or a concert package to bring it fully to life, but track by track, it’s insanely good"

Noonan prefers to call himself a “rhythmic storyteller” rather than drummer or percussionist, and he has frequently in the past narrated the back-stories of compositions while playing. Singing drummers may conjure up images of the Dave Clark Five (though only in the very old), but there’s a pretty honourable tradition that stretches all the way from Levon Helm to Han Bennink and Ken Hyder. However, this is probably the first time that a drummer/vocalist has gone out with an operatic vocal quartet … from Sardinia.

Noonan had been working on the rock opera Zappanation when he encountered tenor Matteo Siddi, a fearless and often subversive experimenter who has won fame for his impressions of everyone from Michael Jackson to Jesus. Joined by three others who share his hyper-eclectic approach, Siddi is the de facto lead in the quartet that accompanies Noonan here in some wildly thrashy reinterpretations of material from his catalogue, which draws on umpteen traditions and styles.


The Zappa connection holds in that the singing is often wild falsetto, notably on the opening As The World Spins or a faux-artless folksy yell on Silkie From The Sea, which seems to have a Scots/Irish provenance, which is presumably his family background. The most remarkable cut, though, is Don Knott’s, which fugues, almost literally, on the few phonetic possibilities of the title, while Noonan maintains a tight, supertight cymbal riff underneath.

Over the span, this is quite tiring music as a purely aural experience. It somehow needs a video or a concert package to bring it fully to life, but track by track, it’s insanely good and a fascinating exploration of the relationship between music and storytelling, a nexus that is far more thoroughly broken and lost than the connection between music and dance, which just about clings on. Noonan’s an important figure, and if the Zappa reference puts anyone off – as it inevitably will – Noonan’s not an ironist or a satirist. He’s working in a very ancient tradition and bringing it back to life.

Buy Sean Noonan: Drumavox at

As The World Spins; He Skarbnik He; Don Knott’s; Silkie From The Sea; Pussy Cat’s Gone Wild; Where Could I Go; Krasnoludki’s On My Mind; Bia (58.40)
Noonan (d, v); Alice Madeddu (ss); Eva Pagella (m-z); Matteo Siddi (ts); Manuel Cossu (b).
Noonansmusic 8

Previous articleOiro Pena: 2
Next articleThor De Force: The Build

Jazz Journal articles by month


Allison Au Quartet: Wander Wonder

Toronto-based alto saxophonist Allison Au returns for her third studio album, blending a contemporary jazz quartet with her own compositional skill and expert improvisation....

Obituary: Harold Mabern

Greatly admired and much in demand by his contemporaries, the pianist Harold Mabern was a witty, affable and articulate individual. On a memorable evening...

J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding: the early years /2

Kai Winding was born in Aarhus, Denmark, 18 May 1922, and emigrated with his family to the USA in 1934. He was largely self-taught...

Joseph Jarman: Black Case Volume I & II: Return From Exile

Who was the “real” leader of the Art Ensemble of Chicago? As missing-the-point questions go, it’s a good one. Lester Bowie’s “is there a...

Ronnie’s: Ronnie Scott and His World-Famous Jazz Club

Ronnie Scott was, as someone once put it, a very interesting bunch of guys and Oliver Murray has got together a very interesting bunch...

JJ 09/70: The Brotherhood at The Country Club

Chris McGregor's brilliant pick-up group seems to be making more and more public appearances. In our last issue Pete Gamble, reporting on their successful...