"Sphere ranks among the very best solo jazz guitar records I have ever come across. McGowan's arrangements are fresh and innovative...it is amazing to hear how full he sounds as one guitar player, adding layers of beautiful harmonies and a driving bass, never allowing the listener to miss another instrument. Right from the start listeners know they are in the presence of greatness."
- Brandon Bernstein, Just Jazz Guitar magazine (November 2011)

"McGowan is exquisitely tasteful throughout, remaining true to the melodies while adding colorful textures, including harp-like interludes and occasional sprinklings of dissonance. There's an intimate feel to the CD that's quite appealing, and the consistency of tone and mood creates an ambience that's both lovely and luminous. McGowan has created an immensely pleasing CD, a work of art that allows both himself and Monk to shine."
- Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz (December 2011)

"On "Sphere" guitarist extraordinaire Sean McGowan offers a heartfelt homage to pianist Thelonious Monk. The recording is pristine, featuring solo-unadorned guitar without meddling overdubs and superfluous effects. McGowan eloquently weaves through Monk’s creative cannon with tasteful and tender readings of these enduring standards. On the up-tempo "We See" one hears echoes of the legendary Joe Pass in the guitarists long fluid lines and joyous comping. However, McGowan never loses focus of the angular dissonance and unique use of space that are trademarks to Monk’s unorthodox playing. On the lush ballad "Round Midnight" harp-like embellishments, intricate chord voicings, and passionate single note excursions bring new life into an iconic piece that has been recorded many times. On "Sphere" Sean McGowan has eloquently captured the essence of Monk’s artistic legacy and is a recording that will stay on my most active "playlist" long after this review is published."
- James Scott, Minor 7th (February 2012)

"It takes a lot of brass to tackle the music of Thelonious Sphere Monk, the creative giant whose idiosyncratic piano playing and composing reshaped the sound and texture of modern jazz. And when the musician attempting this feat is a solo guitarist, well, that makes the challenge even more daunting.

On Sphere, fingerstyle jazz guitarist Sean McGowan proves he’s up to the task. Wielding his 2003 Custom Virtuoso Nickerson archtop, McGowan tackles 10 of Monk’s tunes, including such classics as “Blue Monk," “Ruby, My Dear," and “‘Round Midnight," as well as lesser-known pieces like “North of the Sunset."

With a slightly smoky yet ringing tone, McGowan captures Monk’s signature rhythmic hesitations, dissonant close-interval voicings (which can be particularly tough to work out on a 6-string), and playful use of silence and space.

When the music demands a fast run or two, McGowan rips with gazelle-like speed across the fretboard. But it’s his ability to coax rich, sustaining harmony from his axe that puts him in a league with today’s best solo jazz guitarists. Whether plucking waves of shimmering harmonics à la Lenny Breau or paying homage to Joe Pass by juggling walking bass lines, chordal fragments, and single-note bebop phrases, McGowan plays with a relaxed, swinging feel and ripe tone.

Here’s the kicker: McGowan cut these tunes live in the studio with no overdubs, so the performances have an immediacy and energy that draw you in as a listener. Yet it never sounds like he’s struggling with a passage or hurrying to get through the song without blowing a take. These tracks will satisfy both Monk aficionados and fans of solo guitar who may be new to this music. In fact, if you’re in the latter camp, Sphere provides a superb introduction to one of America’s musical icons."
- Andy Ellis, Premier Guitar (February 2012)


“It’s a gutsy move to cover Monk’s music with just your guitar and no overdubs, but McGowan is more than up to the task. Don’t let the solo guitar label fool you, he swings hard on “Blue Monk" and “Rhythm-A-Ning." Monk’s classic “Round Midnight" gets a gorgeous treatment, starting with shimmering harmonics. A true guitar showcase."
- John Heidt, Vintage Guitar (April 2012)