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Christian Howes: Out of the Blue

Ian Patterson By

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The violin is widely considered as the most expressive of instruments, closely approximating the human voice. It depends, however, to a large degree, on whose hands the instrument is in. Christian Howes is that rare breed of musician who makes the violin talk; using the idiom of the blues on Out of the Blue, Howes gives a virtuoso performance, as full of emotion as it is technically dazzling. Joined by guitarist Robben Ford , who lends his jazz-inflected accent to these blues, Howes' quintet fairly rips through an eclectic selection of covers which run from gospel and funk to New Orleans, by way of Ornette Coleman. The energy levels are high, and Howes' stirring displays must surely rank him as one of the very best violinists on the scene.

Perhaps it does Howes a disservice to consider his talent within the confines of the modern era, because his raucous attack, adventurous melodic approach and exuberant swing can't help but evoke the great Stuff Smith—a major influence on the young Dizzy Gillespie. Despite being trained classically, there is almost no trace of this in Howes' playing; his command of swing and the blues is total. Although he takes a long, sinewy, bop-oriented solo on Chick Corea's "Fingerprints," this idiom is not his thing either, and there is instead a passionate, devil- may-care edge to his playing which has something in common with the gypsy/flamenco tradition.

On Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin,'" Howes' hot swing recalls the father of jazz violin, Joe Venuti, and the infectiousness of the music clearly inspires his entire group, as pianist Tamir Hendelman, first, and then Ford, execute passionate solos over a cooking rhythm powered by effervescent drummer Joel Rosenblatt. A more overtly New Orleans voice colors Howes' "Gumbo Klomp" with a second line drum groove, Ford's funky guitar, and Bobby Floyd's bubbling organ.

Floyd has been an important influence on Howes— their partnership dates back to the mid-'90s—and Howes dedicates "Bobby Bad" to the former Ray Charles sideman. His playing, whether on stride-like piano or organ, brings much to the music. Their waltzing duet on the Burwell/Parish standard, "Sweet Lorraine," is a model of give and take, and both play beautifully. Ford, for his part, is sparingly used, adding twangy undercurrents, Wes Montgomery touches, and water tight unison lines with the violinist. When he does step forward, as on Carla Bley's lovely, slow-burning "Sing Me Softly The Blues," he reasserts his credentials as one of the more distinct, and under-sung originals of jazz/blues guitar.

A joyous spirit pervades the music, no more so than on Horace Silver's "Cape Verdean Blues." Celebratory too, the gospel-infused "Seek and Ye Shall Find," the CD's only vocal track, sung soulfully by Sharon Hendrix. The sum of the parts is most pleasing but, nevertheless, Howes emerges as an outstanding talent, playing at dizzying heights which place him alongside Smith, Venuti, Stephane Grappelli and the great blues fiddlers like Don "Sugarcane" Harris and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, as one of the very finest violinists of this—or any other—era.

Track Listing: Fingerprints; I'm Walkin'; Cape Verdean Blues; Gumbo Klomp; Out of the Blue; Seek and Ye Shall Find; Bobby's Bad; Sing me Softly The Blues; When Will the Blue Leave; Sweet Lorraine.

Personnel: Christian Howes: electric & acoustic violin; Robben Ford: guitar; Bobby Floyd: piano, organ; Tamir Hendelman: piano; Joel Rosenblatt: drums; Sharon Hendrix: drums.

Title: Out Of The Blue | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Resonance Records

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