How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The violin is widely considered as the most expressive of instruments, closely approximating the human voice. It depends, however, to a large degree, on whose hands the instrument is in. Christian Howes is that rare breed of musician who makes the violin talk; using the idiom of the blues on Out of the Blue, Howes gives a virtuoso performance, as full of emotion as it is technically dazzling. Joined by guitarist Robben Ford
. The energy levels are high, and Howes' stirring displays must surely rank him as one of the very best violinists on the scene.
Perhaps it does Howes a disservice to consider his talent within the confines of the modern era, because his raucous attack, adventurous melodic approach and exuberant swing can't help but evoke the great Stuff Smith
, and the infectiousness of the music clearly inspires his entire group, as pianist Tamir Hendelman, first, and then Ford, execute passionate solos over a cooking rhythm powered by effervescent drummer Joel Rosenblatt. A more overtly New Orleans voice colors Howes' "Gumbo Klomp" with a second line drum groove, Ford's funky guitar, and Bobby Floyd's bubbling organ.
Floyd has been an important influence on Howes their partnership dates back to the mid-'90sand Howes dedicates "Bobby Bad" to the former Ray Charles
sideman. His playing, whether on stride-like piano or organ, brings much to the music. Their waltzing duet on the Burwell/Parish standard, "Sweet Lorraine," is a model of give and take, and both play beautifully. Ford, for his part, is sparingly used, adding twangy undercurrents, Wes Montgomery
's "Cape Verdean Blues." Celebratory too, the gospel-infused "Seek and Ye Shall Find," the CD's only vocal track, sung soulfully by Sharon Hendrix. The sum of the parts is most pleasing but, nevertheless, Howes emerges as an outstanding talent, playing at dizzying heights which place him alongside Smith, Venuti, Stephane Grappelli