Howard Fishman

I Like You a Lot

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Howard Fishman's sophomore release contains all the wit and eclectic charm of his debut. But with the addition of two new regular band members, trumpeter Erik Jekabson and bassist Jonathan Flaugher (violinist Russell Farhang remains), the group sounds tighter and more passionate, and there's increased attention paid to dynamics. In addition to guitar, Fishman plays piano and banjo on a few tracks, adding elements of unpredictability. His voice is cutting and almost lascivious on cuts like "Dirty" and "Molly's Pies," tender and intimate on "Another Night," "Dreams of You," and the old standard "I Surrender, Dear." The lyrics tend to deal with the subject of lost love, but Fishman puts his own unique shadings on this common emotional terrain, from the unbearable anguish of "Night After Night" to the semi-amused resignation of "Your Guess," the latter containing the line "I like you a lot," which gives the album its title.

The group really flexes its instrumental muscle on "Time Will Tell," which could be considered a brisk 5/4 waltz, and "It Won't Be Long," an up-tempo jazz number with an ear-catching, pre-swing era chord progression. Jekabson and Farhang stretch out during their respective solos and provide intuitive, jazz-savvy counterpoint behind the propulsive rhythms laid down by Fishman and Flaugher. This combination of instruments is remarkably flexible. It can just as easily conjure jazz, folk, country, tango, or even mariachi music, all of which, in one way or another, inform Fishman's wonderfully quirky vision. "Oh, Death," the album's final track, is an almost musicological foray into "old-time music": public-domain material that derives from hillbilly oral traditions. With no harmonic structure, the droning song has an almost liturgical quality. In the group's hands, it becomes an extended free improvisation; an entirely new creation born of very old source material. It is this sort of alchemy that makes the Howard Fishman Quartet an important force in the world of creative music.

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