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George Howard: Midnight Mood

Robert Spencer By

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Is it jazz? Is it art? Is jazz art? Does it matter? Friends, we have here a sweet album by a more-than-competent soprano saxophonist, a bunch of computer programmers, and a few instrumentalists and background singers. George Howard was one of the originators of smooth, glossy jazz / funk, and he remains one of the masters of the genre. Of course, this is a GRP release, not an Impulse! disc, but I do wonder how easily the GRP promoters shift gears between recordings like this one and recent reissues like Coltrane's Living Space, Pharoah Sanders' Jewels of Thought, and Archie Shepp's Live in San Francisco. It seemed - perhaps more than really was the case - that the music was very important. That it could change the world. Blah blah blah, I suppose. George Howard has songs on this disc entitled "Exodus" and "Africa," but the latter is worlds away from both the Trane and the Pharoah pieces of the same name.

The difference lies in the evident fact that George Howard doesn't want to change the world, he just wants to dance. Anything wrong with that? Of course not. It's just a wholly different set of expectations for what music can and should do. Certainly the George Howards of the world hold sway today - maybe they always do. If you want to dance to pleasantly funky high-gloss instrumental music, Midnight Mood is for you. If you want inspiration, intellectual and spiritual challenge and sustenance, go dig out your old Coltrane records.

Howard is a master of his often difficult instrument - although I must insert the caveat that I don't know how much of his virtuosity is courtesy his producer and studio. That is another thing that distinguishes this music from what is ordinarily called jazz, "Wyntonian" or other: there's a tremendous loss here of the electric spontaneity that used to be associated with the word "jazz." Also, on three tracks, "Exodus," "Silent Thoughts" and "Smooth," Howard plays with just one other person (Phil Davis on the first two, Eric Daniels on the third) playing everything else - the gauzy wash of synthesizers, the drum machines, the whichwhat. Personally that puts me off, and I would much prefer to hear less competently-executed music performed by live humans in the moment. Here when there are live humans playing they sound just like the machines anyhow. I do think real human music has a quality of energy, and edge of vitality, that no machine, no matter how well-programmed, can match. But again: anything wrong with computer-generated string washes? Nope. Most everyone who picks up this disc will not care-if he or she notices at all.

What about the music? Well, there are 7594 records like this one. Here's another. Anything wrong with that? No. This is another good one. Enjoy.

Personnel: George Howard, soprano saxophone; Morris Pleasure, Phil Davis, Eric Daniels, Darrell Smith, keyboards, programming; Paul Jackson, Jr., Carl Burnett, Keith Robinson, guitar, Jonathan Butler, guitar, vocals; Sam Sims, Larry Kimpel, bass; Sonny Emory, drums, Lenny Castro, Munyungo Jackson, percussion; Rayford Griffin, drum machine programming; Keith Hyman, DJ; Atir, chants; Marva King, vocals; Portia Griffin, Kim Brewer, background vocals.

Tracks:"Within Your Eyes," "Exodus," "Midnight Mood," "Africa," "Silent Thoughts," "Still in Love," "Smooth," "Find Your Way," "Africa (Reprise)."

| Record Label: GRP Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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