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Noah Howard Quartet: At Documenta IX

Mark Corroto By

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The discovery (or rediscovery) of the music of Noah Howard is an experience in the most soulful avant gardist since Albert Ayler. Howard, born 1943 in New Orleans, participated in the New York free music scene of the 1960s recording for ESP and performing with Archie Shepp, Frank Lowe, Rashied Ali, and Sun Ra. He has lived as an American Expatriate in Europe for several decades.

His music from the 1960s and 70s, to the delight of fans, has begun to resurface. This live recording made in 1992, at the art exhibition Documenta IX in Kassel, Germany, finds Howard in top form. He is accompanied by basist Jack Gregg (Marion Brown, Sonny Simmons, and Jack DeJohnette), drummer Chris Henderson (Sun Ra, Ray Anderson) and pianist Michael J. Smith (Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton). The recording opens with the very organic “Kentucky.” Howard’s quartet tracks the music of John Coltrane throughout; favoring Coltrane’s composed free music. Howard relies heavily on his Gospel roots to tell spirited stories here. Smith’s piano favors McCoy Tyner-meets-Cecil Taylor runs throughout. His rhythmic pounding and pink-pink of the ivories emphatically accent Howard’s lyrical passages and his fire-breathing insights.

The music here is mostly composed, but the quartet ventures into instant composition on “Night Trip.” Howard opens with a 3-minute solo passage followed by a slightly incompatible improvisation. The listener here (and probably in the audience) feels that this band wants to swing. They oblige. Howard roars through “Masai” and “Phoenix,” carrying on a bluesy outside music. The ballad “Lovers” rounds the disc out with gentlest touch possible. Noah Howard is both a rediscovered voice of the 1960s and a modern master of jazz.

Track Listing: Noah Howard – Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone; Michael Joseph Smith – Piano, Keyboards; Jack Gregg – Bass; Chris Henderson – Drums.

Personnel: Kentucky; Karma; Joy; Night Trip; Masai; Lovers; Phoenix; Bush Talk.

Title: At Documenta IX | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Boxholder Records

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