Greg Howard Band: Lift
Chapman Stick player Greg Howard has recorded solo albums and gigged his often Spanish influenced electric jazz in Charlottesville, Virginia for over fifteen years. The Chapman Stick, a 10 or 12 stringed electric instrument invented by Emmett Chapman in the 1970s, contains low and high pitched strings for playing bass lines and melodies simultaneously. The strings are tapped with a fingertip, not plucked like a guitar or electric bass, giving the sound a bouncy quality unique among stringed instruments.
Frequently collaborating with area musicians such as trumpeter John D'Earth and saxophonist LeRoi Moore, Howard's most prominent national exposure has come on recordings and tours with the Charlottesville native Dave Matthews Band. Howard departed from his usual solo project style after meeting several Dutch musicians while touring Europe, inspiring him to form the Greg Howard Band. In addition to Howard on Stick and synthesizer, the Greg Howard Band also includes Jan Wolfkamp on drums, Hubert Heeringa on saxophones and violin, and Jan van Offen on fretless and fretted bass, with guest musician Louis Gerrits on EWI and saxophones. They recorded Lift in Holland in 2000.
Lift begins with several snappy tunes, including the 5:8 time romp "Dissent" and the rolling "Cross Country." The crisp opening tunes give way to a more subdued second half of the record, including the experimental sounding "The Offering" and the spacey "Still Water," which segues into the rising jam of "The Effect of Marco's First Lekker Bakkie in the Morning." Except for "Restless" and the re-recorded, older Howard tune "Blues for Ayman," the mellow tunes lack the energetic fire of the opening songs like "Dissent." The writing duties split evenly between Howard alone and Howard band members, but the more mellow songs are mostly co-written with the band.
Howard's bass lines on the Stick and van Offen's bass occasionally overlap, since they fill the same tonal space and frequency range in the sound, but the bouncy timbre of the Stick and the purr of the fretless bass help keep the instruments distinct. The saxophones, particularly the soaring wail of the soprano sax, brilliantly compliment the more ethereal sections, and the crisp snare drum sound matches the bounce of the Stick.
Compared to Greg Howard's previous solo records, engaging but often sparse in instrumentation and interaction, Lift expands on these aspects of his music by combining Howard's writing and playing with a band of additional musicians. The interface with additional musicians and the deepened tonal palette leave Howard's music sounding more rich and developed than ever before.
Personnel: Greg Howard: Chapman Stick, synthesizer
Jan Wolfkamp: acoustic drums, ddrums, loops
Hubert Heeringa: soprano and alto saxophone, violin, wind controlled synthesizer
Jan van Offen: fretless and fretted electric basses
Louis Gerrits (Guest): EWI, tenor, and soprano saxophones
Record Label: Espresso
Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock