Andrew Rathbun/Owen Howard Quintet: Days Before and After (2004)
How does a jazz musician go about adding some zest and shine, and maybe a touch of modernity, to the old tried and true saxophone-and-rhythm-section format? Sometimes they use a Fender Rhodes instead the accoustic piano, and sometimes they put an electric guitar in the keyboard's place; and sometimes they add a guitar to the piano, to give a denser weave to the harmonics. Rare is the use of two guitars in the jazz worldthat's more of a rock thing, it would seem. But that's the way saxophonist Andrew Rathbun and drummer Owen Howard do it on Days Before and After.
And it works, and it sounds fresh and sharp-edged, and brings to mind the question of why the two guitar approach isn't heard more often in jazz.
The sound that guitarists Ben Monder and Geoff Young bring to the set is mostly subtle, crisp understated single noting in front of delicate ringing chords, along with some seamless unison work with Rathbun's saxophone on the opener, "Darkness Before Light." The guitarists, in fact, sort of steal the show. Geoff Young I hadn't heard before, but Ben Monder played wonderfully on the recent Maria Schneider masterpiece, Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, '04); the two together create an original sound, adding a very interesting harmonic glow to the mainstream effort.
Chico Hamilton, the great eighty-two year old drummerwho is still going stronghas always favored guitarists in his units, for the "sustain" that the instument brings to the ensemble sound. Monder and Young use their instruments' sustain properties fully here, painting metallic-hued washes to fill in all the spaces beneath the weave of the textures.
"The Whole Enchilada," an Owen Howard tuneall the songs are either Rathbun- or Howard-pennedgives the guitarists a chance to stretch out and wail on over into rock territory, while Rathbun gets a bit gritty on the tenor sax, with some of his most spirited playing on the set.
Rounding out the successful components of the set is drummer Howard and bassist John Hebert, an assertive rhythm team that adds a vibrant organic bounce to the sound, a sort of sonic turgor.
An outstanding set that should appeal especially to fans of jazz guitar.
Visit Andrew Rathbun at www.andrewrathbun.com .
Track Listing: Darkness Before Light, Missing the Sea, Forward Motian, Life as Crystals, The Whole Enchilada, There Will Come Soft Rains, Nomad, Hiccup, Hinge
Personnel: Andrew Rathbun--reeds; Owen Howard--drums; John Hebert--bass; Ben Monder--guitar; Geoff Young--guitar