Wednesday, August 11, 2010

More Than Just a Timekeeper

Drum Lore - Owen Howard (BJU Records) - The catalyst for this delightful recording was a "dis" drummer/composer Owen Howard received at a summer jazz workshop on composition, basically questioning the percussionist's participation.  He did not get angered - he got even by producing this classy collection of works composed by drummers (including, of course, himself.)  There are works from the 1930s (Chick Webb's "Stompin' At The Savoy"), 1940s (Denzil Best's "45ยบ Angle"), 1950s (Shelly Manne's "Flip")  and right up until the present day (Howard's "Roundabout.") Howard's rhythm section partners include the probing, pensive pianist Frank Carlberg and the solid, melodic, bassist Johannes Weidenmuller. The basic quartet also contains alto saxophonist John O'Gallagher - to that fine ensemble, Howard adds Adam Kolker (tenor sax on 3 cuts, soprano sax on 1 and bass clarinet on 3), Andy Middleton (tenor sax on 3 cuts and soprano sax on 3 others) and the creative trombone work of Alan Ferber (4 tracks).(Speaking of the trombonist, he's played on some of the best CDs of the year, from his own "Chamber Songs" to the "Asphalt Orchestra" release on Canteloupe to the Jacam Manricks release on Posi-Tone to the new Charlie Hunter.)

Howard's choices are inspired, from Jack DeJohnette's swinging dance/rubato ballad/bouncing bass line/drum feature "Zoot Suite" to the West Coast-swing take on "Stompin'.." It's a treat to hear the band's take on Ed Blackwell's "Togo" - Ferber leads the band in with an unaccompanied trombone rumination then Howard's lays down a West African beat that thunders yet has a definite melodic feel.  There's shimmering cymbal work on Paul Motian's contemplative "It Should've Happened a Long Time Ago" which also features the melody line carried by the bass clarinet and alto sax while Carlberg dances beneath the horns. "Bulgaria", a Peter Erskine composition that the drummer recorded with John Taylor and Pale Danielson, features a floating rhythm section and evocative soprano saxophone work from Middleton.  It's just  Ferber, Kolker and Howard on the irresistible "Flip", adapted from Manne's classic "The Three" and "The Two" Lp from 1954.  Reminiscent of Jimmy Guiffre's work with Bob Brookmeyer, the sprightly melodic line is supported by the drummer's snappy brush work.
Howard's "Roundabout" has a driving beat, a well-drawn melody shared by the pianom trombone, soprano and alto saxophones, and several fiery solos. The bass and drum is exemplary, with Weidenmuller really pushing forward and the leader moving dynamically in and around the soloists.

"Drum Lore" can't help but make the curious listener smile, not only because Owen Howard as honored his fellow drummers but also because the music is rife with melodies, so well-played and involving.  Find it and dive right in - the rewards are endless.  For more information, go to

Here's a tasty take on Peter Erskine's "Bulgaria", courtesy of BJU Records and IODA Promonet:
Bulgaria (mp3)

I am not trying to sound like a shill for NPR (yesterday, I wrote about the "First Listen" session featuring the new CD by Esperanza Spalding) but I must commend them for the work they did this past weekend at the Newport Jazz Festival (by the way, who decided to schedule the Litchfield Jazz Festival the same weekend as Newport?)  Should you so chose, you can go to and listen to 16 different sets from the likes of the Maria Schneider Orchestra (pictured above, courtesy of Eric Jacobs/NPR) to Gretchen Parlato to the J. D. Allen Trio to Darcy James Argue's Secret Society to Fly to Ken Vandermark's Powerhouse Sound.  Many of the sets are available as downloads.  Do take advantage of the organization's largesse.  Granted, the sound quality is not super but the music transcends the128kbs.

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