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Noah Howard Quartet - Live at the Unity Temple

James Lindbloom, AllAboutJazz

After a long absence from the record shop racks, Noah Howard is turning up with increasing frequency these days (via Cadence, Boxholder, Eremite, etc.).
This 1997 live gig, on Sweden's Ayler label, dates from the same tour that Cadence documented. He's got a strong band with him: the redoubtable Bobby Few on piano and the underrated bassist Wilber Morris can be counted on to raise a session above the ordinary, and drummer Calyer Duncan (a new name to me) propells the group without overplaying.
The first set is relatively laid-back: 'The Blessing' has that Coltrane-spritual feel, particularly in its conclusion;
'In Transition' is, again, imbued with the portentous grace of Coltrane, featuring Duncan's churning malleted drums, Few's heavy-pedaled piano carpeting, and Morris' lush bass (almost sounding like a synth at moments); in 'Lovers/Schizophrenic Blues', Howard spirals out his breath-measured melodies and bluesy trilling.
No mountains are moved, no envelopes are pushed, but it's an enjoyable set. Someone must have spiked Noah's water during intermission, however: the band comes charging out in a completely free mode (with Howard on tenor, no less, sounding much more sour than he does on alto).
The bulk of 'Lightning Rod Part 1' finds Howard a good deal more unhinged than before, blowing a marathon solo until leaving it up to Morris and Duncan to take their unaccompanied turns, whereupon the piece peters out. 'Part 2' is a briefer helping of more of the same (with Howard back on alto again); it's not the most focused he's ever been, but it's always heartening to hear an elder statesman who still takes risks.

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