Sep 8, 2009

noah howard

noah howard - patterns/message to south africa (1971/79)

Noah Howard remains one of the great, under-appreciated saxophonists of free America. The tension-fraught brilliance of his alto playing during the1960s &1970s has an edge of palpable liberation that is both unquestionable & unmatched. A student of Sonny Simmons & Dewey Johnson, Mr. Howard's success in transmuting thejoy-wedge of his instrument's post-Ornette identity is well documented on sessions issued by the ESP, Freedom, & America labels.

Originally issued on his own Alt Sax label in 1971, the "Patterns" session is one of the great mystery spots in the Noah Howard canon. Mr. Howard was in Europe, subsequent to the American jazz diaspora of the 1960s. His Parisian-based group with Frank Wright, Muhammad Ali & Bobby Few was in merge process with Alan Silva to form the Center of the World Collective. When a Dutch radio broadcast beckoned, Mr. Howard connected with fellow expatriates, bassist Earl 'Goggles' Freeman (who the following year would appear on Noah's Live at the Village Vanguard), & conga player Steve Boston. Enlisted for the rhythm section were Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg, then in the heat of their duo functionality as ICP, along with the guitarist Jeep Schoonhoven (Wally Tax, etc), who is blinding here. The resultant music was a thirty-eight minute spasm of creative thunder.

The 'Message to South Africa' session is another kind of spirit flare. Written in Paris the week that Steve Biko was killed, the date came together around two of the great South African jazz exiles, pianist Chris McGregor & bassist Johnny Dyani. Drummer Noel McGhee (who had played on Noah's Live at the Swing Club date) was enlisted to give the band Caribbean representation. In Paris as well was Kali Fasteau, who lends the proceedings some of the same vibrational magic she had used so notably on Archie Shepp's Bijou.


the skygreen leopards

When the Jewelled Antler crew ‘broke’ all those years ago, most of us pigeonholed them as back-to-nature, field-recording characters – hippies, basically, though of a surer cut than usual. But while there was some overlap with the free-folk underground, their concept was more complex and fascinating than most of their contemporaries: each branch from the tree (Thuja, Blithe Sons, Giant Skyflower Band, Der TPK, etc) further complicated your understanding of what they were about. The Skygreen Leopards (a.k.a. Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn) first appeared a good number of years ago, and across a number of albums they’ve refined their chamber-pop duo-cum-collective approach, such that Gorgeous Johnny feels effortless while ticking all the right referential boxes. (...)

When listening to Gorgeous Johnny, I’m strangely reminded of the almost polemicalXYZ album. This was an important move, because it broke with general (and reductive) understandings of the ground that ‘underground artists’ could rightfully cover. With Gorgeous Johnny, avant-pop, folk, improv etc artists Donaldson and Quinn similarly light down in an imagined reconstruction – this time, of fey ’60s baroque – which, given how hampered underground discourse is by its language of unexamined extremity and drone/noise redundancy, feels pretty wilfully contrary, in a welcome way. But most importantly, all of the songs here are strong enough to be bolstered (rather than swamped) by their rococo touches and period piece flourishes. recuperation of country and folk undertaken by one-time shoe-gazers Moose in the early 1990s, their leap from the by-numbers guitar-noise-pop of “Jack” to the Buckley/Hardin/Gentry fantasia of 1992’s