The New York Jazz Exchange
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The New York Jazz Exchange

New York City, NY | Established. Jan 01, 2005 | INDIE | AFM

New York City, NY | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2005
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"Great EMusic Review!"

Dynamic arrangements that spit and sizzle

Sean Nowell has firmly established his credentials as a stolid post-bop saxophonist with a string of discs stretching back to 2006, but he opens The Kung-Fu Masters by covering Jimi Hendrix (a resplendent rendition of the sinuous classic, “Crosstown Traffic”) and devotes the liner notes to a single quote from martial artist Bruce Lee that begins, “There are no limits.” The adjoining photo of Nowell — left leg and hand poised for a karate kick and chop, right hand cradling his tenor sax, sunglasses on, neck muscles tensed, mouth yelling — undercuts his industrial-strength alter ego just a smidge with good humor, and so does the music. The Kung-Fu Masters is named after a septet Nowell has led since 2009, long enough to flex an impressively muscular mix of jazz, funk, rock and electronic, leavened with an appealing dab of carefree fun.

The Hendrix and Bruce Lee references help program the wayback machine to the ’60s and ’70s. Sure, there are some blipping riffs and pronounced effects, especially from Nowell’s longtime cohort (and Posi-Tone label mate), keyboardist Art Hirahara. But the bulk of the tracks on Kung Fu feature three-part horn arrangements (with ace bop trombonist Michael Dease and trumpeter Brad Mason joining Nowell) that are taut like a traveling blues revue or, more often, greasy and groove-oriented like the Crusaders, Bohannon, or the JBs. Throw in Adam Klipple’s fatback organ and the powerhouse funk-rock rhythm section (drummer Marko Djordjevic and bassist Evan Marien) and you’ve got music that spits and sizzles on the grill.

The talented, practiced band and Nowell’s dynamic arrangements rescue The Kung-Fu Masters from retro cliché. Check the way all seven members are deployed on the snaky funk, replete with a four-note vamp played rondo style, on “In the Shikshteesh,” the Shaft-on-the-Autobahn dislocation of “The Outside World,” the slingshot-groove skirmishing between the horns and the keys on “The 55th Chamber,” and the porridge of textures that comprise “Uncrumpable.” On The Kung-Fu Masters, Sean Nowell gets back to his bad self. - emusic.com


"5 Star Review from Critical Jazz!!!"

Zen and the art of improvisation. The human chemistry of abstract creation where limitations of form and function are cast aside for soulful interpretation of a deconstructed melody by the soloist and all those that choose to participate.
That and this is a really cool disc!
More than a jazz disc, Sean Nowell and The Kung-Fu Masters is a multi-media presentation of positive energy and the transference through a plethora of means further explained in a recent interview you can check out here:
http://www.criticaljazz.com/2012/09/sean-nowell-stockholm-swingin-interview_6053.html
But let us focus on the recording shall we? Nowell is a free spirit in every sense of the word and this sense of harmonic abandonment and lyrical intensity comes through more pronounced in this particular release than any other to date. Jimi Hendrix tunes were created for free interpretation and Nowell kicks this release off with Crosstown Traffic. While intense there is a deceptively subtle zen like quality of less is more that permeates not just this tune but the release as a whole. Old school tunes with a contemporary twist, the sonic circle being made complete. While there is a conceptual base to the recording there are no overt political statements, no causes to fight, and no battles attempted to be one. Similar artists with the majority leaning towards the slightly more contemporary pick jazz as a springboard for everything from racial intolerance to political activism. The Kung-Fu Masters is a springboard for the mind.
The band is as righteous and tight as they come with phenomenal performances laid down by trombonist Michael Dease, rising tumpet star Brad Mason with the rhythm section rounded off with bassist Evan Marien and drummer Marko Djordjevic. The keyboard work of Art Hirahara along with the organ and keyboard work have some referring to this particular sound as "jazztronica." I tend to shy away from labels as I remember the scene from Back To The Future when Chuck Berry's cousin Marvin holds up the phone with Chuck listening and says, "You know that new sound you been lookning for? Well listen to this!" The same applies to Sean Nowell and The Kung-Fu Masters. Outside the Hendrix cover the rest of the ten song set are Nowell originals and perhaps his finest and most innovative work to date. "For All Intensive Purposes" has a decidedly electronic middle eastern flair pulled together with more traditional post bop found here in the west. "Can Do Man" is a reaffirmation of the positive energy and spirit the exudes from this formidable ensemble cast of characters. Fortified with funk and an undercurrent of articulated syncopation that is somewhat reminiscent of the early days of Chicago.


Diversity in soundscapes with a contemporary twist of flavor and pop. Jazz, funk, jazztronica? No label works perfectly here. The labeling of the music is up to the listener. I hear a myriad of influences from Middle Eastern to British Acid Jazz and beyond. At time the ambient quality one may associate with jazztronica will make an appearance but I do not necessarily this was the specific harmonic path this group was intending to cross. The break down to a pure funk laden jam has Nowell at the very top of his game. Foot to the floor originals, breaking the rules and creating a new energy is indeed pushing the music forward.

A remarkable recording on virtually every level one can think of.

5 Stars - Brent Black @ CriticalJazz.com


"All About Jazz Review 1"

The Kung-Fu Masters isn't simply another album for tenor saxophonist Sean Nowell; it's the recorded coming out party for a band and concept that he's been tweaking and promoting for years. Nowell has been field testing this project in New York jazz spots like 55 Bar, and his website contains various recorded performances of the group at the club dating back to 2009, but this marks the first official outing from this forward-thinking beast of a band.

The Kung-Fu Masters marry funk with post-modern jazz and electronica elements to create an offbeat, beat-heavy blend of music that's brilliantly propelled by drummer Marko Djordjevic. He comes across as a mutated Mike Clark, capable of delivering Headhunters-worthy grooves and imitating the ever-looping beats that serve as the heartbeat for dance floor mixes; he may not be the front-and-center star of this date, but the success of this music rests squarely in his hands.

The rest of the band—which includes two keyboardists, a bassist and two other horns that keep Nowell company in the front line—does a fine job navigating its way through the saxophonist's music. Bassist Evan Marien is completely in sync with Djordjevic, and keyboardists Art Hirahara and Adam Klipple (who also works the organ) alternate between delivering earthly delights and otherworldly sound bites. The horn section functions together like a modern dance club version of the JBs, nailing tasty riffs into place over the rhythm section, but its members also get the chance to individually break away on occasion and stand apart from the crowd.

Futurism finds its way into most of these pieces, yet the music speaks to the ears of today. Nowell's electro-acoustic creations skirt normal jazz conventions while fully adhering to the core philosophy of jazz as an all-absorbing, ever-evolving entity. The Kung-Fu Masters seem like a band that would embrace pianist Herbie Hancock and Squarepusher, rather than viewing them as diametrically opposed forces in music. Maybe that makes this jazz for the rave generation or, perhaps, it just marks this as compelling stuff that doesn't need to be placed into a labeled bin. - All About Jazz


"The Midwest Jazz Record"

Breath taking electric jazz/funk with the sax man giving as much time to the B3 as he does to his own axe. Kicking it with a funked up treatment that turns Hendrix on his head, the good vibes continue to flow in non-stop fashion as the party rolls on and gate crashers try to work their way in. A super sonic stew that really gets the blood flowing, Nowell finds himself on surer footing with each new release. A tasty, smoking winner throughout. - Chris Spector


"Knocks from The Underground"



"...enough mind-bogglingly elaborate sounds over the course of an hour to satisfy a mutant millipede with ears in lieu of legs...ranging from creepy organ dissonance to funky “wah-wah” flickers to vintage
electric piano flourishes and mercurial solos." "An eclectic update
on the more cerebral music that emerged from the 1970's, such as
progressive rock and Sweetnighter-era Weather Report. While the nearly anarchic harmony suggested free jazz, the boundaries between sections and Indian/math-rock-like timings show clean synchronization."
John Engelman - Knocks from the Underground
- Knocks from The Underground


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Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

The New York Jazz Exchange is a NYC/Stockholm collective forged in the 60's Blue Note tradition of Hard Bop, Ballads and Boogaloo. The upcoming tour in August will be their 5th in the US and the tour in October/November will their 4th in Scandinavia. They have been exciting sold out audiences internationally since 2010 and have played over 100 shows together during that time.

Press Quotes:
"Real swing knows no geographic or ethnic bounds."
"The time spent together makes them sound like a seasoned ensemble"
"...a buoyancy and vitality that blisters with life."
"A classic and yet contemporary sound of New York jazz."

Band Members