Noah Howard -
Quartet / Live at Judson Hall
By now, IRA readers will note that I've got a thing for ESP jazz. These are the two albums that got that ball rolling. And a couple of rare jewels lost in jazz history.
Howard was (and is) an alto player in a free jazz bag. Seeing a piano-less quartet led by an alto and a trumpet, you'd probably think his quartet album is Ornette-lite. Not so, I'd call it way more formally structured and more melodic. And in areas more fiery than Coleman. I'm having a hard time with a good comparison, because I find this record so unique.
The second album is a little more standard free jazz fare. It sounds very enamored of the Coltrane of Live at the Village Vanguard Again - lots of that rolling and placid piano keeping things anchored down. The second side is surprisingly funky in parts - not a feel you'd usually associate with an ESP session.
If I had to choose between the two, I think I like the quartet album a little more. I think the piano rooting things down gives the live set a little more of a sleepy feel, even though I really like the piano player (Dave Burrell). The live set sound leaves a bit to be desired - a lot of cavernous room sound dulls the energy a bit, too. Still, they are both great records, and a must if you like the style.
A fun backstory on these records - they both used to belong to famous activist John Sinclair. I bought 'em second hand in Detroit because they had his name written on the back as well as because they were on ESP. I wonder if he had to hock his precious and famous free jazz collection to help foot a legal bill at one point or another. If that's the case, they found a good home, John, and thanks for sharing.