Sean Clapis Presents Guitar Artistry at Middletown’s Buttonwood Tree | Connecticut Public Radio

Sean Clapis Presents Guitar Artistry at Middletown’s Buttonwood Tree

Oct 21, 2015

Contrasts in mood and feeling are a recurring motif for Sean Clapis's quartet.

Sean Clapis’s fine new CD, The Unseen River (RMI Records), is a smooth-sailing, adventurous cruise that reveals the gifted, Hartford-born guitarist/composer’s fluent style and expressive depths streaming from dreamy reverie and elegant eulogy to steamy sophistication.

With his tight-knit, first-rate working band featuring tenor saxophonist Jonathan Greenstein, bassist Timothy Norton, and drummer Jason Sawyer, Clapis has exactly the right crew aboard as they explore the rich crosscurrents running through his nine original compositions gracing this savvy, artistically open, yet accessible and enjoyable CD.

With good reason, Clapis -- a Hartford favorite who has made his mark in the Big Apple -- celebrates his new release with his band on Friday, October 23, at 8:00 pm at The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown. A Hartt School grad, he’s played internationally and is fluent in everything from retro to contemporary.

Right from the disc’s opening number, "Analog Dog," the guitarist creates a compelling mood with his billowing textures and cleanly articulated, fresh sounding ideas, complemented by his band, with each player, throughout the session, acting as an invaluable contributor. Greenstein’s tenor, for example, accentuates the opener’s sense of serenity. On the very next piece, "Suleb" (an anagram for blues), the quartet snaps to attention, unleashing mercurial energies with everybody swinging without a stumble, despite the tune’s jumble of a title.

Affecting contrasts in mood and feeling are a recurring motif for the quartet whose symbiosis of collective and individual spirit makes it as much at home with lyrical material as it is with its illuminating handling of fiery works.

For lyrical reflections, there’s Clapis’s heartfelt homage to the late, great pianist Hank Jones on "So Long Henry," plus his moving lament on "Haiti Song," a socially conscious piece he wrote after that third-world country was devastated by an earthquake in 2010.

For fireworks, you can’t beat his "Isle of Fogo," which erupts with fresh, flowing, lava-like lines and quick-witted back-and-forth, feverish interplay. It’s exciting stuff that makes a visit to this isle a memorable one.

In the CD’s liner notes, pianist/composer Noah Baerman, who’s the founder and artistic director of RMI Records, aptly compares the experience of listening to The Unseen River to travelling on “an uplifting journey.” Thanks to Clapis’s finely sculpted craftsmanship, including his semi-precious textures (a kind of Clapis lazuli), luminous tones and jewel-like lines, it’s a voyage offering many fascinating vistas. All are celebratory, whether the stop along the way is lyrical, swinging or, as in the title tune, The Unseen River, a uniquely refreshing view with mysterious depths and a joyous stream of consciousness. Tickets: $10.00, available at the door. Information: (860) 347-4957.

Baerman Bouncing With Buds at Buttonwood

On the next day, Saturday, October 24, at 3:00 pm at the jazz-friendly Buttonwood, Noah Baerman, a pianist/composer whose mind perpetually percolates with creative ideas, leads an excellent quartet made up of friends and colleagues, including the noted alto saxophonist Kris Allen, bassist Henry Lugo, and, on drums, the multi-talented George Colligan

Noah Baerman.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

Best known as a pianist, Colligan is, besides being a Jack DeJohnette-inspired drummer, also an organist, trumpeter, composer and bandleader.

Baerman and buddies dig into the Middletown-based maestro’s original compositions as well as tunes possibly ranging from James Williams to Thelonious Monk. Whatever they improvise on, brilliant corners are sure to emerge. Information: same as above. 

Colligan’s Piano is His Firehouse Forte

Colligan plays piano with his own trio on Friday, October 23, at 8:30 and 10:00 pm at Firehouse 12 in New Haven. 

Winner of Downbeat’s poll for “Rising Star-Keyboard,” the musical maven is celebrating the release of his first disc for RMI Records, Write Them Down, a tour de force showcasing his multiple gifts as a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Morphing into a one-man band, he plays and sings all the parts on all nine original songs. 

Credit Resonant Motion, Inc.

Much in demand, Colligan has performed on more than 100 recordings, including 27 as a leader, and has worked with such luminaries as Vanessa Rubin, Buster Williams, Gary Bartz and Jack DeJohnette.

The multi-faceted musician is joined by two formidable trio mates, bassist Vincente Archer and the wondrously protean percussionist Matt Wilson. Tickets: $20.00, first set; $15.00, second set. Information: and (203) 785-0468.

The Bad Plus Gets Even Badder

The Bad Plus + Joshua Redman is a sure-fire formula for success as the powerhouse trio and the celebrated saxophonist join forces on Saturday, October 24, at 7:00 and 9:30 pm at the Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Massachusetts.

What began a few years ago as a casual guest shot for Redman with The Bad Plus has transformed into a family-like collaboration as the musicians have bonded, released an album of original compositions and are touring as a four-part collective, evolving into a jazz brotherhood. Tickets: $32.50 in advance; $35.00 at the door. Information: and (413) 586-8686.

All in the Family Reigns

Brotherhood and family ties reign from the Connecticut shoreline to the state capital thanks to appearances by the Brubeck Brothers, Chris and Dan; The Brotherhood Sextet uniting the Rodriguez Brothers, Robert and Michael, with the Strickland Brothers, E.J. and Marcus, and The Terry Brothers, Yosvany and Yunior; and Cab Calloway’s grandson, Christopher Calloway Brooks. 

Dan and Chris Brubeck.

Continuing their family dynasty's legacy in their own sweet way, the Brubecks perform on Wednesday, October 21, at 8:30 pm at Old Lyme’s Side Door Jazz Club. The Brotherhood Sextet floods the shoreline club with a rip-tide of swinging, sibling revelry on Saturday, October 24, at 8:30 pm. Information for both dates: (860) 434-0886.

Cab’s grandson, Christopher, revives the flamboyant bandmaster/entertainer’s old Hi-De-Ho spirit on Sunday, October 25, at 7:30 pm at downtown Hartford’s Infinity Hall.

Geographically, the new, state-of-the-art hall is not far from the site of the legendary State Theater where Cab Calloway, the Uber-Hipster of the Big Band Era, and all the mythic Swing Era heroes once wailed for Hartford hepcats. Information: (866) 666-6306

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