Sean Clapis | Almost Free
Sean Clapis is an up-and-coming jazz guitarist with a quietly explorative style that sometimes recalls Jim Hall, not so much in his sound as in his thoughtful approach. Born in Hartford, Connecticut and a graduate of the Hartt School of Music, he has been active in the New York jazz scene since 2011 although he plans a move to Madrid, Spain in the near future. Clapis’ musical experiences include 1920s and ‘30s jazz with the group Carte Blanche, Spanish rock with Tulsa, folk, hip-hop, and more avant-garde music. However Almost Free is different than all of those settings.
For this set, the guitarist is featured in a sparse trio with bassist Alex Tremblay and drummer Itay Morchi, performing ten of his compositions. The musicians engage in close interplay with Clapis in the lead most of the time, and they cover a wide variety of moods without feeling obliged to shout out their feelings excessively.
The opening “Spin” has a conversational melody that is built off of a simple theme. It is a fine introduction to the trio with each of the musicians having an opportunity to solo. “Interlude: Iberian Blues” stays on one chord rather than technically being a blues. With Tremblay keeping the music cooking with his walking bass, Clapis gets to wail while displaying some appealing tonal distortions. “Alternative Fax” utilizes a regularly occurring rhythmic idea that alternates with a melodic passage. The playing gradually becomes more passionate as it evolves.
“Interlude: Ballade” is a brief performance with a drone set by Tremblay. “Main-Tain” is mostly uptempo with each of the musicians getting their say. After the sparse and downbeat “Interlude: Bad End” (which is quite brief), the musicians display introverted but heartfelt feelings on the ballad “Shine Your Own Light.” “Interlude: Question” utilizes a repeated phrase that does sound a bit like a question and serves as the basis for the brooding piece. “Supernatural Disaster” moves a bit with the guitarist wailing over the quiet background. This intriguing program concludes with a fairly simple but effective melody, “Finale: Saitama Skyline.”
Almost Free is filled with tasteful and restrained playing that contains plenty of heat just beneath the surface. It rewards repeated listenings and is well worth exploring, an easily recommended set from the creative guitarist Sean Clapis.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian, and author of 11 books including The Great Jazz Guitarists.