Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle

Hot Shoe Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: Pinnacle

Some individuals are blessed with a single talent that sets them apart from others; very few folks are able to use that talent to expand their lives in ways that not only affect their own future, but that of others encountered along the way. Ted Howe is one such individual. 

He began as a lover of music, particularly jazz; he took piano lessons from Henry Smith, one of the founders of the Berklee College of Music. Howe began as a student and eventually became a professor, teaching theory, improvisation and arranging.

He was only 24 years old.

After some military service, he returned to civilian life and got a job at The Surf Supper Club, a major Boston venue that often featured major artists. Howe often created arrangements for them, in addition to performing with his own groups. Those years were key to the development of his skills as a composer and producer.

His base combo is a trio, which he often uses to produce shows — and albums — that feature music by icons such as Duke Ellington, Elton John and Dave Brubeck. Much of that work has included dance theater and ballets. 

Pinnacle, Howe’s newest CD, features a 13-piece jazz orchestra that uses a unique combination of instruments. The rhythm section contains a piano (two artists share that chair), bass, guitar, drums and another percussionist; the reed section consists of only three musicians, but they switch between flute, four clarinet versions, and soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes. Finally, a “heavy” brass section features trumpet/flugelhorn and as many as four trombones.  

Howe composed and arranged all the charts in a “classical” jazz format that features four individual pieces and a three-movement suite. The styles vary from swing and funk, to Latin and bop, done in different meters. And, oh my, how they swing!

It’s impossible to pick favorite tracks, although I’m blown away by those that feature bassist John Patitucci: “Presto for Two Trombones” and “Jazz Etude for Three Clarinets.” The latter chart brought back memories of Benny Goodman’s classic recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing,” with Patitucci’s bass doing the Krupa drum lines, battling Goodman’s clarinet line as a trio.

This is a truly great CD, among the best I’ve reviewed in years.

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