It's almost been two decades since the LA band Kittyhawk introduced the 10-stringed Chapman Stick to jazz fusion. For those still uninitiated, the stick was designed on the basis of a revolutionary, string tapping technique positioning the guitar's neck parallel to the musician's body, and approaching the neck with the arms at a perpendicular angle, and then tapping two sets of strings on an electric instrument indepentently. There have been a number of musicians who've now adopted the instrument, primarily as an alternative to an electric bass, but now an increasing number are embracing the instrument's full sonic potential via use of the instrument's bass strings and melody strings simultaneously.
Greg Howard is one of the most gifted impresarios of the instrument, occupying the space of both bassist and guitarist in his ensemble. Howard has already released several independent label CDs, and the latest, Sol , is a solid foray into latin-rhythm influenced fusion, sparkling with the crisp intonations of his instrument. Howard for the most part plays the instrument with a clean sound through minimal processing. Howard's elegant technique brings out the instruments best sonic qualities in the context of his band, but to say that the relative novelty of the stick in a jazz context is the best justification to investigate Howard's music would be unjust. Sol consists almost entirely of originals by Greg Howard, and the album maintains a smooth balance between a relaxed Latin jazz grooves and more boisterous fusion pyrotechnics. The music is all the more compelling, as it's clear from the melody and bass lines, the music achieves a freshness, given the different approaches to melody and bass lines which the stick seems to encourage.
Guitarist Tim Reynolds guests on two tracks, and it's here that Howard's inventive, weaving melodies contrast clearly with a distorted guitar sound. Howard is backed by a number of supporting musicians, but the core band finds Howards 10-string stick a full compliment in the tasty percussion of Darrell Rose and Robert Jospe on drums. Both Howard's bass lines and melody lines combine seamlessly in an engaging intricacy-more amazing then that they're rendered together by a single musician. Sol serves up fusion with a very cool edge, and this is music of a quality that should be favorably compared with the much hailed 8-string guitar work of Charlie Hunter. Those interested in Howard's current and past discography can find out more about this talented bay area musician at www.greghoward.com.