Sean Jefferson
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Sean Jefferson

Rochester, New York, United States | INDIE

Rochester, New York, United States | INDIE
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"ROCHESTER JAZZ FESTIVAL 2009: Day 5: Sean Jefferson Quintet"

In jazz, it's customary for band lineups to change frequently, if not constantly. On the plus side, that ensures spontaneity. On the downside, jazz as a rule rarely provides a platform for the same group of musicians to spend extended periods of time working together. The whole notion of group chemistry has a very different definition in jazz than it does in genres like rock. That said, jazz history is peppered with the occasional group that is still remembered for being just that, a group. John Coltrane's classic quartet and Miles Davis' famous quintets are among the most memorable examples.
Whether or not drummer Sean Jefferson and the extraordinary musicians he assembled for his RIJF appearance will ever play together with the same line-up, last night they very well could have been one of the greatest groups in jazz. For their first appearance at the Montage, the quartet (billed as a quintet because of a pre-planned guest sit-in from Paradigm Shift leader Melvin Henderson), the group focused primarily on compositions from Jefferson's upcoming album, "Dream Works."
The band excelled in too many ways to get across in a small space, but here goes: Jefferson's epic compositions have the sprawl of classical music but demand hard-driving groove and hairpin time changes that demand imagination from the players as opposed to sheer precision. All three musicians on Jefferson's front line -- pianist Harold O'Neal, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, and bassist Richie Goods -- covered those bases but in a way where each brought individual personality to the table. As a result, the music sparkled in four dimensions, the way music does when four people truly play as a group. It was all the more remarkable when you consider that the players were seeing some of the charts for the first time as late as an hour and a half before the show.
The band touched on funk, R&B, and -- every now and then -- a vague shade of hip-hop. To combine those styles with jazz, one has to swerve around a minefield of cliches. This group not only succeeded in doing that, but also captured the essence and elegance of classic post-bop. O'Neil and Goods in particular morphed from classical to jazz modalities with impeccable agility and fluidity, with O'Neil at times sounding like the soulful offspring of, say, Steve Reich and Brad Mehldau. Meanwhile, Strickland burned with an intensity that was angular and lyrical at the same time, and also distinctly his own. Please pardon the obvious, but his facial expression *did* call to mind the late John Coltrane: he looked serious, immersed the whole time. He was clearly searching. And when you watch someone doing that, it hits you from across the room and lights the music up.
Not to be overlooked, of course, are the compositions themselves, which provided the framework for this group to make a most engagingly contemporary artform out of the time-honored post-bop traditions. Bravo. - By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni (City Magazine)


Discography

Verb-ation - Sean Jefferson & the Jazz Mad Lab (2008)
DreamWorks - Sean Jefferson 4tet (Spring 2010)

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Bio

Jazz history isn't exactly short on drummers who’ve pushed the artform to new heights. Some of them, as we all know, managed to do it on a nightly basis. For today’s jazz drummer, that means one thing: if you want to leave your mark, relying on chops and technique just isn’t going to do. You have to have a voice...

Though Sean Jefferson has certainly made it his life’s work to try and master the vast traditions set forth by drummers before him, he never set out to make music strictly for drummers. Or musicians. Or even jazz fans. Yes, he has studied rigorously. Yes, he has a knack for putting a fresh, cerebral spin on meter. Yes, he grooves hard and swings tight. But Jefferson has always, from day one, been in search of his own voice. And, though he is already pushing toward new horizons in jazz drumming, as a composer he points the way to a vision of jazz’s future as a language, and is never content to fall into the role of pedestrian beat-supplier. As far as Sean is concerned, drums must always fit into the greater whole of the music.

While heavily inspired – and moved to see time itself in rich, metaphysical terms – by drumming trailblazers like Elvin Jones, Jack De Johnette, and Jeff “Tain” Watts, composers like Thelonious Monk, Aaron Copeland, Paul Hindemith, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and renowned drummer/composer Brian Blade caught his ear as a young listener and forever changed his sense of scope as a musician. (Blade’s impeccable knack for making the drums serve the music would prove to be a crucial inspiration.) Inventive, ambitious, layered... Jefferson operates on many planes at once, approaching the drums as a small orchestra loaded with a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. And, even given the immense weight of jazz history, not to mention today’s vibrant creative climate, Sean sits perfectly poised to stand out and be heard.

Strangely enough, Sean almost never writes from the drums up. He feels strongly that all music should start with melodies than can be sung by a human voice, and that melodies “should be stand up no matter who is playing them.” With any piece of music he writes, his intention is for the music to make its way from player to player, group to group... growing, changing, and living on. The composer Philip Glass once said that he doesn’t write music; he simply listens for it. Similarly, Jefferson considers music a sentient being – not merely a body of kinetic and potential energy, but an actual living thing with consciousness, awareness, and intent. In Sean’s view, music works with us and through us, dictating its will to be written. And, as it sits there, waiting for someone to give it a form we can comprehend, Jefferson listens closely.

Unsurprisingly, he takes multi-faceted approach to rhythm. He subscribes to Elvin Jones’ idea that “the fill will end when the fill ends” – often allowing his fills and beats to extend past strict definitions of where one bar ends and another begins. He finds wonder, not to mention amusement, in the fact that we don’t experience time in a consistent fashion from moment to moment. The fact that an hour can zoom by or drag on “forever” depending on how we feel at that moment (time flies when you’re having fun, a watched pot never boils, etc) not only fascinates him but provides a launching point to reflect everyday concerns in his music. Life, the natural world, is filled with miracles that tantalize us daily, right there under our noses. And Jefferson feels that you don’t have to be a philosopher, scientist, or monk to grasp at them. He doesn’t want the listener to feel alienated, and he has a knack for parlaying complex time acrobatics – a bass-line figure in five, a drum beat alternating between three and four, and a sax solo ascending and disintegrating into utter chaos – into music with a flow that the non-musician can wrap their head around with no effort whatsoever. “I’m not trying to give anyone a head rush,” says Jefferson.

And it is rare indeed that music of such elegance and structural integrity can come off with such ease, without going over anyone’s head. Most likely, this is a reflection of Sean’s belief that complex musical patterns are innate to human understanding. He is a fan of Greek, Latin, and Eastern folkloric musics where odd, complex meters and microtonal systems occur frequently and thus sound natural to listeners who are used to hearing them. “You have masters candidates at the conservatory level trying to figure this stuff out,” he says, “and then you see children dancing to those kinds of music and it all makes sense.”

Sean currently leads his own modern jazz quartet, "Dream Works" and is a full-time member of the Grammy-nominated soul-jazz outfit Paradigm Shift. He has also played with distinguished luminaries such as Dr. Lonnie Smith, Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Jeff Tyzik, Marcus Printup, Wycliffe Gordon, and Bobby Militello. When he isn't busy gigging nationally and internatio