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Owen Howard - 'Drum Lore Vol. 2 - More Lore'

Ben Gray
Staff Writer

Much of the attention-grabbing jazz music that is coming out in 2014 is of the boundary-pushing variety, with electronic textures and maybe some rock influence for good measure. There's nothing at all wrong with that - I'm certainly all for a Rhodes piano and solid boom-bap drums. But don't think for a moment that "traditional" jazz with an acoustic setup is dead and has nothing left to say. Look no further than drummer Owen Howard's Drum Lore Vol. 2.

Howard is the drummer, bandleader, and main composer on this album, rounding out the set with tunes from Victor Lewis ("Hey, It's Me You're Talkin' To"), Joe Chambers ("Ungano"), Paul Motian ("Mumbo Jumbo"), Philly Joe Jones ("Got to Take Another Chance"), and Tony Williams ("Pee Wee"). The album is called Drum Lore for a reason - Howard put together this project and the first volume that preceded this one as a way to showcase drummer-composed tunes (where the first Drum Lore volume skewed heavily toward other drummers' tunes, roughly half of the tunes here are Howard originals). His impressive quintet here includes John O'Gallagher on sax, Adam Kolker on sax and bass clarinet, Frank Carlberg on piano, and Johannes Weidenmueller on bass. Certainly there are plenty of drummer-led groups out there, but although the concept on this record is the drummer as composer and bandleader, it's the music that makes this such a rewarding listen, regardless of who wrote the tunes.

Howard's sensibility as a drummer/composer has him blending rhythm with melody seamlessly-- check the drum/sax duet in the middle of the opening tune "Plus/Minus", where the drums form a rhythmic bed and also provide counterpoint to the sax phrases. Much about this album might put the listener in the mindset of the Young Lions era, and not just for the use of the Tony Williams' "Sister Cheryl" drum groove on Williams' "Pee Wee"-- the group has a strong conviction in well-played, well-recorded acoustic straight-ahead jazz in the face of fusion-influenced jazz/rock hybrids. Having said that, the quintet here isn't afraid to take things pretty far out to some weirder places-- see "Haiku," with its unorthodox, open structure and free middle section. Bassist Johannes Weidenmueller makes quite an impression on that tune with an ear-grabbing, solo. The whole band works together seamlessly for "Haiku" to make that tune work, and that sums up what makes this album so strong-- egoless group improvisation. Howard's original tune "Like Buttah" is a great example of this group at work. After a drum introduction, the sax lines intertwine with no one taking a real melodic lead, sounding like something in the vein of Ornette Coleman and swinging hard while moving around in some pretty weird spaces. After the knotty head, there are great solos from the individual band members, all in the service of the overall song, as is the case on the rest of this record.

Just so there is no confusion, you want this album. This is an absolutely first-rate, top-flight group, with Howard, O'Gallagher, Kolker, Carlberg, and Weidenmueller coming together to make an incredibly memorable album. Drum Lore, Vol. 2 deserves a spot on your shelf among the other great drummer/composers.

Drum Love Vol. 2 will be released November 7 on Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records.

Track List:
Hey, It's Me You're Talkin' To
Like Buttah
Mumbo Jumbo
Got to Take Another Chance
Pee Wee
Haiku - Solo Piano

Owen Howard's Drum Lore, Vol. 2 is out now on Bjur Records and is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.