Noah Howard: Red Star
Tracing a direct line from be-bop beginnings to the rebellious spirit of the 60s avante-garde the Parisian meeting between Noah Howard and Kenny Clarke captured on this disc connects an elastic tether between eras. At the time of the 1977 studio session Howard and long-time associate Few were well-established free jazz figureheads. Clarke was a living legend and enjoyed a stature commensurate with his place as one of the pioneering fathers of be-bop. On the surface their pairing might appear an odd match, but Clarke was by no means limited by the strictures of the ‘school’ he helped create. His numerous big band collaborations with Frenchman Francy Boland throughout the late 60s and early 70s are but one example of his embrace of other adventurous forms. With Williams, a trumpeter weaned in the hard bop bands of heavy hitters like Yusef Lateef and Gigi Gryce, and Pederson an alumnus of swing sessions led by the likes of Stephane Grapelli a broad gamut of jazz history lay in the band’s collective consciousness.
The date’s compositions are more in the vein of melodic post-bop than fiery free improvisation and Howard’s horn sounds tempered by the esteemed company of Clarke. “Creole Gal” floats in on a light Latin beat forwarded by the drummer’s spacious patterns and Few’s crisp chords. Quartet’s interplay isn’t the tightest, but the slack is shored up through solid solos from Williams, Howard and Pederson. Few, always an intensely lyrical and emotive player, offers up frequent rhapsodic enhancements that fit beautifully into the ensemble sound with Clarke’s coloristic rhythms.
As with most musicians who weather the hardships of the jazz life for any prolonged length of time, Howard has stock songs or melodies attached to his persona. “Lovers,” is one of the most fecund in his songbook expanding from a gorgeous melodic line that celebrates fully his voice-like tone. Intrusive static mars an otherwise beautiful reading of the tune, but lyric contributions from Few and the Howard whose resplendent cries are at once tender and declamatory otherwise buttress the piece. The final title piece is the main event however, pouring forth for over a quarter of an hour with Howard in fine locquacious form blowing one knotty phrase after another through an astonishing stream of minutes. Williams is spurred on by the saxophonist’s garrulousness and uncorks a exposition of his own that consumes copious choruses in like fashion. Interestingly enough, Clarke sounds less at ease in these turbulent waters and rather than driving the group rhythmically he seems more apt to punctuate. His solo toward the waning minutes of the piece suggests a structured logic and reticence to follow his bandmates completely into the ecstatic void. Though meandering in places this is vintage Howard and with the added allure of Clarke in what many might view as an unexpected setting it makes for an exciting listening experience. And as noted, the drummer’s associations with the avante garde didn’t end here. His 1983 drum summit with Don Moye, Milford Graves and Andrew Cyrille offered another successful opportunity to shirk the chains of bop.
Track Listing: Creole Girl/ Lovers/ Red Star.
Personnel: Noah Howard- alto saxophone; Richard Williams- trumpet; Bobby Few- piano; Guy Pederson- bass; Kenny Clarke- drums. Recorded: May 16, 1977, Paris, France.