TED HOWE — Pinnacle (review)

TED HOWE — Pinnacle album cover Album · 2014 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
3.5/5 ·
js
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.
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