TED HOWE — Pinnacle

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4.00 | 3 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 2014


1. Presto for Two Trombones 8:26
2. Impromptu for Trumpet 8:31
3. Suite #1 for Jazz Orchestra, Movement 1 6:00
4. Suite #1 for Jazz Orchestra, Movement 2 6:00
5. Suite #1 for Jazz Orchestra, Movement 3 6:02
6. Adagio for Piano 11:07
7. Jazz Étude for Three Clarinets 6:12


Ted Howe: leader, composer, arranger, piano (2, 6);
Mike Barry: trumpet, flugelhorn;
Lester Walker: trumpet, flugelhorn;
Melvin Jones: trumpet, flugelhorn;
Sam Skelton: flute, clarinet, Eb clarinet, soprano, alto sax;
Don Erdman: clarinet, tenor sax;
Seth Kuehn: baritone sax, bass clarinet;
Wes Funderburk: trombone;
Tom Gibson: trombone;
Andy Martin: trombone (1);
Francisco Torres: trombone (1);
Geoff Hayden: piano, Fender Rhodes (1, 3-5, 7);
Dan Baraszu: acoustic, electric guitar;
John Patitucci: acoustic, electric bass;
Marlon Patton: drums;
Jose “Bam Bam” Ramirez: percussion

About this release

Hot Shoe Records 102 (US)

Recorded at The Murray Sound Lab, Kennesaw GA

Thanks to snobb for the addition


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A well known jazz publication with a highly regarded reputation ran an unfairly short review on Ted Howe’s “Pinnacle”, in which the writer expressed his dismay over Howe’s classically oriented song titles, and made very little mention of the music itself. We expect better of our jazzy journalistic institutions, as it never hurts to listen to the music first before setting off to criticize. Had our writer of said review given this CD some more time, he would have found that although these titles sport lofty terms such as adagio, etude, suite, impromptu and other terms usually associated with ‘long hairs”, the music on here is pure jazz, and not the least bit stuffy or over arranged. As the song titles imply, Howe’s music does have a 3rd stream influence, but not much more influence than many other sophisticated modern big band arrangers, and the third stream element is just part of what Howe works with as he also draws from the history of post bop, artsy pop jazz and even Duke Ellington influenced swing.

“Pinnacle” opens strong with the odd metered pop influenced melodies of “Presto for Two Trombones”. If you are thinking odd-metered rhythms plus art pop tunes equals Don Ellis in the 70s, you couldn’t be more on target as those who may miss Ellis’ unique big band vision will definitely hear something familiar in “Pinnacle”. Throughout this CD, the make or break for Howe is how strong his melodic material is per track. In this respect, Howe’s strongest writing comes out on the opener, and “Movement 2” of the “Suite for Jazz Orchestra”. Most of the other tracks are good with the impressionistic “Adagio for Piano” showing off Howe’s considerable chops on the piano, and “Jazz Etude for Three Clarinets” featuring some uptempo jaggedy neo be bop. Probably the only weak track would be “Movement One” of the Suite, on which an unpleasant distorted guitar with intonation problems keeps announcing a rather dull melody.

As mentioned earlier, the mix of 3rd stream and art pop on “Pinnacle” may remind some of Don Ellis, other references could include Don Sebesky, early Bob James, or any of those early orchestrated CTI albums. Howe likes to cite Herb Pomeroy and Duke Ellington as influences. Ted shows a lot of potential on “Pinnacle”, and his work could rival Ellis and the others if his band can start delivering performances that are a little more dynamic and a little less pensive. This issue with dynamics could be related to allotted rehearsal time and studio production as well. All the same, if you have an interest in the current big band scene, “Pinnacle” is worth checking out.
Often when buying current Jazz today one can find quite a few wonderful new releases each month with the majority mainly being small ensembles containing various styles from Bop, Fusion to Avante Garde and vocalists but Big Bands or Jazz Orchestras albeit although there are quite a few out there with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra being the most recognised of today’s current ones, there are not many new release albums that contain them excepting in the Latin scene. Ted Howe is one of those exceptions with a beautifully arranged and played, latest release “Pinnacle” which contains a 13 piece Jazz Orchestra with Ted leading, composing and writing the arrangements with the addition of providing superb piano input on two numbers throughout the album’s duration. This would be Ted’s fourth release as a leader with Summit Records with “Love Song” comprising a trio performing standards being the prior release to “Pinnacle” back in 2007.

One of Ted Howe’s greatest influences is none other than Duke Ellington and Ted actually has his own show he performs on a regular basis around the country,’ An Evening with Duke Ellington” and like The Duke himself he uses a Classical approach to his composing with the main section of “Pinnacle” containing three Movements but like the Duke wrote concerning his Jazz’ “It Don’t Mean A Thing, If It Ain’t Got That Swing” which is precisely what this album contains with Jazz of a gorgeous high Big Band standard being the result. Yes, it swings with that precision and tightness one can only attain with rehearsal but that is not to say there is a lack of improvision with the solos provided from various band members over all these time signatures and arrangements in the album’s compositions, just perfect. To quote, Ted Howe himself concerning the album’s theme and texture, “These pieces aren’t just about the music; they’re also about the instruments, the varied combinations of sound they make, and how great musicians can rise to just about any challenge and take the music to new and exciting places” and the Orchestra certainly does that, during this release.

The album’s compositions are titled with a Classical terminology with “Presto for Two Trombones” getting things underway with presto being a quite a good reference for the up tempo swing that the orchestra provides during the composition with two trombones soloing during the beginning and end by separate band members. Between this we also have a wonderful bass guitar solo from John Patitucci in amongst all those blazing trumpet segments and trombone solos and it is a wonderful composition and arrangement by Ted Howe. “Impromptu for Trumpet” follows, having a beautiful laid back introduction with Ted’s piano and Lester Walker’s trumpet that has Ted providing an absolute delight with his piano take and solo on the composition’s melody and meanwhile the orchestra stays in the background only coming forth during the number’s highpoints, it is performed beautifully. “Suite #1 For Jazz Orchestra” follows with three movements placed as separate tracks within the album’s content and all based on a four bar motif. “Movement 1” opens with 3 distinct electric guitar chords that are used in a repetitive manner but never over done and they re-occur later throughout the composition which changes tempo almost to a drum march time in places but goes back to the main tempo with the orchestra coming back with a superb full sound and a wonderful kick within the arrangement. “Movement 2” comes in with a slower time with more great guitar work to open and the Orchestra having quite a bit of Classical sound in the compositions opening but John Patitucci quickly changes all that when he appears on bass with the composition gaining quite a nice Brazilian influence in the later part. “Movement 3” is just as wonderful with the trumpet covered by the hat bringing that old time New Orleans feel but that quickly changes within Ted’s arrangement to a much quicker tempo with superb swing from the orchestra. “Adagio For Piano” as the title implies is the album’s ballad with Ted at the helm for a lovely interpretation with superb space on piano in the composition and even when the orchestra is right behind him you still hear every beautiful note even within the compositions intricate points which also has the addition of a sterling laid back trumpet to accompany him. . The more up tempo “Jazz Etude for Three Clarinets” brings the album to a close with a mixture of clarinets used from three of the band members and yes there is still more of that Big Band swing to savour.

Great album, Ted said in his album notes that he had never attempted a to write Suite and after this one let’s hope he has a go at another very soon. Wonderful to get something a little different and I suppose that it is bit sad to say, due to the lack of Big Band recordings released today as they were the corner stone of Jazz once, but Ted seems to trying to remedy the problem with this classy, swingin’ stompin’ and just wonderful Jazz album.

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