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There are many precedents for the drummer-led album: Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Joe Chambers, Jack DeJohnetteand that is just naming the American contingent working (generally) within the tradition. Owen Howard's new album is difficult to place squarely within the oeuvre of any of the above players and that is as it should be. Across ten tracks, Howard makes a personal statement that nods in the direction of the Blakeys, Joneses and DeJohnettes but expands upon their influence, instead of aping it.
The line that intersects through Time Cycles is a multi-part theme, "Kalimba, found here as the second, sixth and final tracks. It acts as a rail switch, subtly shifting the direction of the album away from the other material, which is otherwise uniformly modern swing. The "Kalimba s are where Howard the rhythm maker comes to fore but not in a way that sacrifices musical cohesion for pure bombast. And even more appealingly, this switch can be thrown whenever. During the first set of last month's CD release performance at New York's Cornelia Street Café, "Kalimba 1 opened the proceedings and "2 's firm beat came after two gentle originals also from the album.
The name of the album and the packaging is based on the theme of bicycles and so it is with this in mind that the listener can identify a certain roundness and smooth motion to the pieces. Here is where the influence of a cerebral player like DeJohnette can be felt even if the thematic material is more solidly anchored in post-bop forms.
Howard, ever self-effacing, is joined by a diaphanous frontline of John O'Gallagher and Andrew Rathbun on saxophones (live the angularity of the former and romanticism of the latter were thrown into stark relief), omnipresent and omniscient pianist Gary Versace (who was replaced at the gig by Henry Hey on electric piano to drastically different effect) and the probing bass of John Hebert. A collection of some of the city's best players, all who haven't forgotten how to ride a bicycle.