Noah Howard Quartet

Live at Documenta IX

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AllMusic Review by Fran├žois Couture

This concert was recorded at the art and music festival Documenta IX in Kassel (Germany) in the early '90s. It was made available for a short time in 1992 in a limited edition by the European label Megadisc. In 2002 the U.S. label Boxholder gave it its first proper release. For the occasion, alto saxophonist Noah Howard brought his new quartet: pianist Michael Joseph Smith, bassist Jack Gregg, and drummer Chris Henderson. Howard is still passionate about his rootsy free jazz, but age is slowly taking its toll, robbing him of his stamina in the process. His solos are often short, some tutti lines interrupted -- he messes up the finale in "Bush Talk" and sounds surprisingly out of tune at the beginning of "Kentucky." The CD doesn't present the whole concert, which may be a good thing, but why leave only the head of "Karma"? More than half of the pieces were co-written by Smith, who literally steals the show. His agile playing, shifting from McCoy Tyner-esque accompaniment to outbursts of clusters for great dramatic effect, is what captures the listener's attention. Henderson does a potent job; most of the time Gregg's bass is buried in the mix. Highlights include the ballad "Joy," the riveting piano solo in "Masai," and "Bush Talk," the only track where Howard (on tenor) steers the ship straight ahead into Fire Music.

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