‘Self-Identity’ – Ollie Howell

Self-Identity

THE SLEEVE of a seminal early-1970s 12″ vinyl jested that its contents could not ‘be played on old tin boxes, no matter what they are fitted with’ – maybe a prophetic warning to a quick-grab, smartphone-to-the-ear generation to come. But such wisdom was recalled when soaking up this second release, as leader, from British drummer and composer Ollie Howell.   

Self-Identity follows 2013 debut album Sutures and Stitches, and the intervening years have seen Howell’s career flourish, with the great Quincy Jones’ “360-degree beautiful young cat” compliment leading to him selecting the drummer for the opening residency, this year, at his Q’s jazz club in the luxurious Palazzo Versace Dubai.

Expanded to a sextet, with the addition of guitarist Ant Law, this line-up is completed by tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles, trumpeter Henry Spencer, pianist Matt Robinson, double bassist Max Luthert; and ‘old tin boxes’ are definitely out, because what is striking – both about Howell’s arrangements and this Real World Studios recording – is the rhythmic sonority which he, Robinson and Luthert achieve. So, spanning some seventy minutes, the consistent appeal of these twelve original numbers is not so much the tuneful hook, but rather the slickness of the groove and the ensemble’s overarching synergy which provides fertile ground for confident, melodic soloing – and an especially tight link-up between tenor and trumpet.

Syncopated, leaping figures in Shadows typify the approach as unison piano bass and double bass riffs are driven by Howell’s exacting, versicoloured lead; and the album’s pervading optimism is continued with the bright sax-and-trumpet lines of Resurge. Echoic electronics play their part, too, transitorily segueing the usual broadness of the writing, as well as enhancing the ‘timeslip’ intro to ruminative, brushed Almost TomorrowRise and Fall‘s central vibrancy rocks to Eagles’ deep tenor improv and Law’s fretboard agility, whilst the rhythmic prominence of pianist Matt Robinson in Moving On and Knew is impressive.

Howell’s compositions are roomy, so not only do their ‘passing clouds’ of ideas have the effect of shedding fluctuating light on their progression, they also encourage freedom of individual expression. Balancing Stones‘ dynamic range illustrates this well (including delicate timbres from the leader’s kit), as does The Unknown with its dual-horn assertiveness; and Coming Home‘s subtle, opening blend of folk/hymn tune and Balkan-imbued percussion provides the springboard for breezy, closing showcases from Howell’s players.

Eschew the tinny headphones or portable speakers… and find a way to bask in the rewarding ‘hi fidelity’ of Self-Identity.

Released on 14 April 2017 and available as CD or digital download from Bandcamp, and at iTunes.

 

Ollie Howell drums, electronics, compositions
Duncan Eagles tenor saxophone
Henry Spencer trumpet
Ant Law electric guitar
Matt Robinson piano, Rhodes, electronics
Max Luthert double bass

ollie howell.com

Ropeadope (2017)

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‘Between Shadows’ – Reuben Fowler

BetweenShadows

FROM THE very first horns entry, this debut album from Kenny Wheeler Prize-winning trumpeter/composer Reuben Fowler announces its clear intent – contemporary big band artistry of significant stature!

Only a short time since graduation from the Royal Academy of Music, and just a handful of years from picking up his instrument as a teenager, Fowler has mustered an incredible line-up of musicians to play out the creativity that seemingly gushes from his passion for this field of jazz! The personnel is on outstanding form, boasting such names as Stan Sulzmann, Jim Hart, Tom Harrell, George Crowley, with Dave Hamblett (drums) and Matt Robinson (piano and Rhodes).

Opening number ‘Too Minor’ (written by the late Richard Turner) is an absolute tour de force, brimming with confidence and impetus, building in energy and complexity as it progresses. The mellow ‘Holness’, with George Crowley leading both smoothly and lithely on clarinet, is introduced with tight brass harmonies which then extend out into lush scoring for the whole band. Indeed, the writing is exceptional throughout this album – accessible, yet overflowing with ideas which twist and turn away from the conventional (not unlike Dave Holland’s large-scale projects).

‘Dundry (for JGB)’, written for alto sax soloist James Gardiner-Bateman and referencing his south-of-Bristol residence, presents a ten-minute groove-driven stand-out track, with Hart’s vibes and Alex Munk’s guitar suggesting a landscape more Manhattan than Somerset (Fowler & Hutch, maybe?!), complete with brassy crescendos. It just pulls you under its spell, with Tom Harrell’s flugelhorn the perfect Hubbard-like lead, and Gardiner-Bateman providing a wonderfully jarring sax line – magnificent right through to its TV theme tune close!

The five-part suite ‘Between Shadows’ neatly incorporates an exquisite arrangement of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’, the tempo eventually changing up a gear to showcase ravishing improvisations including that of trombonist, Robbie Harvey, backed by Jim Hart. Voices add another dimension to ‘The Lost’ and ‘The Lost and the Found’ (gorgeous tone from Brigitte Beraha), with Stan Sulzmann embellishing brightly on soprano – and Fowler plays flugel so assuredly and sensitively beyond his years. Tenor player Joe Wright features on ‘Ending’, drawing this generous release (recorded in just two days) to a close.

We are told that the pieces in the suite ‘Between Shadows’ are a response to poetry which suggests ‘something special, to cherish’. That is certainly the case here, and Reuben Fowler deserves all the accolades that are sure to come his way – firstly, for his compositional maturity, and then for the achievement of masterminding such an accomplished and illustrious group of musicians to breathe life into his music.

As is the Edition Records way, the production is crystal clear, capturing the detail from the full range of dynamics to present this big band in all its glory. A real winner of an album, which is launched at The Forge, London, 25 July 2013.

Edition Records – EDN1042 (2013)