Sunday, August 29, 2010

Owen Howard's Compelling "Drum Lore"

“Drum Lore” (BJURecords) is an auspicious recording by Owen Howard, a member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground. As Howard explains, the genesis of this disc came from his participation in a jazz workshop’s composition class when someone asked why he a drummer was participating. The result is the eleven performances which, in addition to Howard’s “Roundabout,” include compositions by Peter Erskine, Tony Williams, Billy Hart, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, Ed Blackwell, Al Foster, Denzil Best, Chick Webb (with Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson) and Shelly Manne and dispel the myth about drummers and composition. Howard provides a brief overview for each composition performed. On this recording, in different combinations, are John O’Gallagher on alto sax; Andy Middleton on tenor sax or soprano sax; Adam Keller on alto sax, tenor sax or soprano sax; Alan Ferber on trombone; Frank Carlberg on piano; and Johnny Wiedenmueller on bass, in addition to Howard on drums.

The opening “Bulgaria” by Peter Erkskine is transformed from a trip performance to a quintet with Middleton’s soprano snaking through the shifting meters before Carlberg enters with some free tempo playing complemented by Howard’s responsive drumming. Another quintet performance, Tony Williams’ “Arboretum” features interesting counterpoint between O’Gallagher’s alto and Ferber’s fuzzy trombone before Wiedenmueller solos, followed by swinging, concise solos from O’Gallagher, Ferber and Carlberg. Howard notes the melodic qualities of many of Billy Hart’s compositions, and this is evident on “Duchess.” Howard features himself a bit more prominently on Jack DeJohnette’s “Zoot Suite,” which mixes some jump blues horn riffing through the different parts of the composition with shifting tempos and moods. This is one of the two performances where I am quite familiar with the original recording by DeJohnette’s Special edition on ECM, and this fares well in comparison with the original, with the three saxophones all contributing here with Middleton’s soprano especially evocative here. Paul Motian’s “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago,” with Kolker’s bass clarinet blending with O’Gallagher’s alto to provide an elegiac quality to this performance.

Another performance that I am familiar with is Ed Blackwell’s “Togo,” which I believe was originally performed with Old and New Dreams. Howard rearranges this into a slightly larger group as Ferber’s trombone replaces Don Cherry’s trumpet, while O’Gallagher and Kolker (on tenor sax) replace Dewey Redmond’s sax. Ferber languorously states the theme before the three horns state it on a number based on a Ghanian folk melody. Howard calls this a tour de force for Blackwell, but also for him as he transverses distinct time feels on his solo. “45º Angle,” is a lesser known composition of Denzil Best that Howard invests with a lively calypso feel with Middleton standing out with a lively tenor sax solo backed by Howard’s crisp playing. Howard’s own “Roundabout,” is inspired by Miles Davis’ “Circle in the Round,” with a shifting pulse and some lovely playing from Ferber, Kolker and O’Gallagher, with Kolker’s soaring soprano playing particularly standing out. “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” is one of the foundational numbers of swing jazz and Howard provides some modern musical coloring in his arrangement with which he tries to impart a jam session flavor that has some lively playing.

It is easy to lose sight of what a superb job on drums Owen Howard plays throughout. Even when not upfront, his playing complements and pushes the soloists through these fascinating compositions that is a lesson that student at the jazz workshop hopefully by now has learned. Howard notes he has at least 30 other tunes composed by drummers that he would have loved to have used and intimates that a Volume 2 may be forthcoming. The music on this fabulous recording certainly would make such a sequel very welcome. Owen Howard’s website is Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records link, from which this can be purchased, is Among other sources for this CD is amazon who has “Drum Lore” is available on cd and mp3. It can also be downloaded on itunes.

I was supplied a review copy by the publicity firm for BJU Records.

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