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Saxophonist Earl Howard's solo CD, released on Tom Buckner's wonderful Mutable Music, reveals a quirky command of the instrument and ideas that defy easy analysis.
For five fearless intervals, Howard publicly probes a private realm of sound. The results are almost always far from unlovely. Throughout there's an undertone of antipathyand, paradoxically, a seeming affinityfor comfortable intervals in melody. There is no obvious interpolation of rhythm whatsoever, giving the recording a stark, abstract feel. Yet this is not an entirely atonal work, at least to the non-analytical ear. Granted, Howard probably approached the pieces without a tonal center in mind, yet they each have their own timbre and tonality, however inadvertent.
Howard seems to adhere to modern music's genral departure from traditional tonality, yet, that tonalitypresent or otherwiseis not the deciding factor as to whether this recording isor is notworth a listen. He seems to want to make a new and distinctive statement in solo instrumental music and particularly on the saxophone.
Howard's saxophone work sounds a bit similar in style and texture to Jorrit Dijkstra's fabulous experiments with solo sax and electronics, though Dijkstra's are far stronger both musically and in their bracing innovations. Both artists are working in the fresh territory Anthony Braxton's brave, lonely pioneering created.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.