Noah Howard Quartet

Live at Glenn Miller Café
JaZt Tapes CD-030

By Ken Waxman

More than a typical nightclub set in retrospect, the untitled tracks which make up this passionate and high-quality performance from 2000 also serves as an inadvertent retrospective of saxophonist Noah Howard’s long career.

New Orleans-born Howard (1943-2010), was a second wave New Thing player, who moved to Europe in the early ‘70s initially working with fellow expatriates like saxophonist Frank Wright and pianist Bobby Few, and then, following his move to Belgium in the early ‘80s, after time in Africa, gigging with jazzers from everywhere. His collaborators included Europeans such as Dutch drummer Han Bennink and French pianist François Tusque plus South African bassist Johnny Dyani.

Live at Glenn Miller Café picks up on most of the musical currents Howard always brought to a performance. Especially on the first, third and final tracks, playing tenor saxophone, Howard spins out series of choruses, in an extended Trane-like mode, complete with vocalized refrains, double tonguing and unexpected reed bites, but leavened with a blues overlay and some heartfelt Crescent City soul. Few is even more dazzling here, providing McCoy Tyner-like modal expression where needed, yet elsewhere chording like a funky combination of Wynton Kelley and Ray Charles. Furthermore when Howard switches to a balladic mode, in response the pianist manages to mate blues tonality and traditional romanticism.

Howard’s internalization of African sounds – he recorded Message to South Africa in 1979 – is expressed on a couple of later tracks. Here the measured backbeat of Cape Town-born, Swedish-resident drummer Gilbert Matthews predominates, mixed with Few’s gospelish runs. But the performances are hardly conventional. Capable journeyman bassist Ulf Åkerhjelm interrupts the most extended variants with some faux-baroque bowed bass lines, while the alto saxophone solo evolves from a theme statement of bugle-like cadences to splayed and pressurized multiphonics.

Howard never lost the populism that kept him working steadily until his death from a cerebral haemorrhage, and he amply demonstrates it here. One track is a close cousin to “Work Song,” albeit deconstructed with some reed snarls, with Few contributing boogie-woogie licks plus a shuffle beat from Matthews. The leader even adds some revival singing of “We Come from the Mountain” as he introduces the band. Overall this CD captures Howard in the prime of his life and is a fitting memorial for a jazz survivor.

Tracks: 11 unnamed tracks

Personnel: Noah Howard: alto and tenor saxophones and voice; Bobby Few: piano; Ulf Åkerhjelm: bass; Gilbert Matthews: drums