From Boston via Seattle, Houge studied at Berklee and privately with Jerry Bergonzi. His literacy on tenor from those experiences shows. His sound is solid, not overbearing, with traces of Bergonzi, Joe Henderson, and even Eddie Harris, but much less like Michael Brecker and his clones. He's got good ideas, sings a little, and on this debut CD, ranges from modern mainstream to straight-ahead jazz. Pianist Frank Carlberg is an especially formidable musical foil, while bassist Dylan Keefe and drummer Dan Rieser take rhythm seriously and playfully. There are three truly outstanding cuts. The first track, "Life Is Good," juxtaposes New Orleans shuffle and calypso with piano and tenor unison lines where Houge evokes the whimsy of Harris. "Side Effects" is the heavy, a modal waltz thick with piano chordal excursions into unlit caverns supporting Houge's probing, inquisitive tenor. A hot bebop rhythm enters the squared circle, fighting against Houge and Carlberg's contrary half-time melody for "Step on It," and the beat wins. Sax and piano succumb, jumping into the quick time, a neat idea. Houge changes up standards, as J.J. Johnson's classic ballad "Lament" is taken midtempo as a vehicle for the tenors lyrical phrasings, "Stella by Starlight" is oblique and slow, with definite Henderson-like shadings. The three vocals are "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "Sunny," and "Everything Happens to Me," the first adapted modally with bass and piano unison, the second funky, the third rather nondescript. "Tears for Far Away" is on the much darker side, a ballad with under-the-surface, grasping-at-straws notes that play well upon repeated listenings. This is a promising debut. As Houge continues to refine his style and stance, he should be heard from, likely in more progressive veins. Carlberg is also one to closely watch, he's already there in terms of forging a musical identity.
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