With all of the recording activity by guitarist Howard Alden in the dozen or so years prior to the 2002 release of My Shining Hour, it is hard to believe that this is his first unaccompanied date. Alternating between electric and acoustic archtop seven-string guitars, Alden delivers one masterful performance after another. His brilliant technique is showcased in a dazzling take of "My Shining Hour" (which begins with a very subtle introduction), while his lyricism carries Duke Ellington's gorgeous ballad "All Too Soon." Alden, who taught actor Sean Penn to play jazz guitar for his role in Woody Allen's film Sweet and Lowdown, plays two miniatures written by Dick Hyman for its soundtrack; unfortunately, the intricate ballad "Unfaithful Woman" made only a fleeting appearance and the sparkling "E is for Emment" wasn't used at all, so Alden makes up for Allen's oversight. The inclusion of "I Wrote It for Jo," a piece by the late George Van Eps, shouldn't be any surprise to Alden's fans, who are well aware of Van Eps' pioneering work on the seven-string guitar, as well as recording four CDs with Alden. The guitarist also delves into the bossa nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema," Mal Waldron's bittersweet ballad "Soul Eyes," and Billy Strayhorn's very emotional "Blood Count" with a freshness that makes it sound as if one is hearing each piece for the first time. Howard Alden will have many shining hours ahead of him in the studio and on-stage, but this memorable CD should serve as an important landmark in his already very impressive career.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden