Smart, moody, original fusion from an American and four Dutchmen. Howard is a virtuoso of the Chapman Stick, a many-stringed instrument played entirely by tapping. Though the Stick has been used to good avail in ensembles like Hawkwind and King Crimson, it’s rather difficult and has therefore never gained much popularity. Howard is one of the small breed of musicians who make it seem effortless. He is joined here by a group of Dutch performers he met while touring the Netherlands a few years back. The music they create is driving and richly syncopated due to the percussive aspects of the Stick in combination with Jan Wolfkamp’s polyrhythms.
Most of the compositions here were written by Howard. As might be expected, the Stick tends to dominate the proceedings, though Howard is sensible enough to lay back when necessary. There are many wonderful textures on the disc, as with the first track where Hubert Heeringa’s alto sax and violin are overdubbed on the exotic melody. Howard and Wolfkamp alternately complement and clash with each other as the moment requires, while Jan van Olffen's bass holds down the foundation.
The 7/4 “Cross Country” is evocative of the Pat Metheny Group, but with a more sophisticated rhythmic base. Reedman Louis Gerrits guests on three tracks, playing tenor on “Cross Country”, soprano on the lush, relaxed “Experimental Sunrise”, and wailing, groaning EWI (wind synth) on the dense and ominous “The Offering”. Heeringa’s soprano sax is especially beautiful when it’s featured. Sometimes it seems that van Olffen doesn’t have enough to do, but Wolfkamp tends to be so occupied with textural duties that it’s most logical for the bassist to sit back and anchor it all.
Lift has much to offer, especially on repeated listenings. Like the best fusion works, this disc should be played when one has the opportunity to sit down and focus on the blissful little subtleties contained therein. Howard and company move beyond chops, far beyond background music, to the kind of creativity that makes them “musician’s musicians”.
Personnel: Greg Howard, Chapman Stick, synthesizer; Jan Wolfkamp, acoustic and electronic drums and loops; Hubert Heeringa, soprano and alto saxes, violin, wind-controlled synth; Jan van Olffen, fretless and fretted electric basses; Louis Gerrits, EWI, tenor and soprano saxes on tracks 2, 3 and 11.