Jazz pianist/arranger Ted Howe’s 2005 Ellington and 2006 Elton John, Elton Exposed releases, garnered positive reviews and accelerated his stature within jazz circles. With this newly issued endeavor, the pianist prophesizes the Arlen, Porter and Van Heusen songbooks, where love is the first order of the day. Howe’s penetrating and sharply focused performances once again convey the steadfast commitment he injects into his respective projects.
On this effort, Howe employs famed vocalists, Lainie Kazan and Giacomo Gates. And his piece titled, Ill Remember Your Smile, is a sterling gem, where Gates imparts a mark of authenticity via his understated lyricism, wondrously contrasted by an memorably melodic hook. As Howe’s compositions seamlessly intertwine with standards such as Cole Porter’s True Love, and James Van Heusen’s, Moonlight Becomes You.
Enamored by a sparkling production featuring a standard rhythm section, strings, percussion and a french horn, the pianist professes love with a ritualistic mindset sans the customary sweeteners.
Simply stated, Howe avoids muzak-like clichés here. And its all executed with finesse and eloquent vibes, all imprinted with a perceptible touch of “class.“
By Glenn Astarita
No one reworks the harmonic patterns of standards with the imagination of pianist Ted Howe. Thanks to his arranger’s ear, gems like “Let’s Do It” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” boast voicings that often find bassist Chris Colangelo harmonizing below Howe’s left hand, playing unexpected root tones that often have a noir effect. But before the accent is put on the wrong chops, be assured that Howe is a triple threat: His keyboard technique underscores an insight that thrives on postbop fluidity.
Then there are the songs he co-wrote with lyricist Rebekah Miller, particularly “If I Had Known” and the title track. They’re both interpreted by Lainie Kazan, who has evolved into one of the most poignant cabaret singers around. She negotiates the tricky key changes in the bridge of “If I Had Known” with deceptive ease. Another vocalist on the session, Giacomo Gates, shines with his unique scatting on “Come Rain or Come Shine.”
Bassist Jim DeJulio steals the limelight in the longest track, “All the Way,” which shifts from a rubato 4/4 to 3-against-4 to an intense jazz waltz with the help of sensitively swinging brushwork from Matt Slocum. During an extended cadenza, aided by overdubbing, DeJulio manages to quote from “Love and Marriage,” “Call Me Irresponsible” and “Darn That Dream.” Of course, Howe—no slouch when it comes to interpolating—does so on “Moonlight Becomes You,” another example of his distinctly re-harmonized doubling of piano and bass lines (this time with DeJulio). He must have had Jimmy Van Heusen’s melody in mind when he referred to it in the middle of Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It.”
- Harvey Siders
Ted Howe is a pianist, arranger, bandleader and educator who has taught at Berklee in Boston and played in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's summer pops series. He is also something that, based on the relative scarcity of Elton John covers, would seem to be uncommon among jazz musicians: an Elton John fan.
Howe's commitment to quality on this project is apparent in his choice of sidemen (John Patitucci and Joe LaBarbera) and engineer (Matt Still), and also in his thorough, meticulous, varied piano-trio arrangements for 10 Elton John songs. His two stated goals are to respect John's music and to make it into genuine jazz. He succeeds at both.
It is intriguing to hear Patitucci sing "Border Song" in his dark bass language. Howe's elegant piano makes "Blue Eyes" sound like it has been a staple of the jazz book since Teddy Wilson. The best track is "Your Song." It begins as a moody reflection, then kicks hard into time, then ends in another free meditation on the famous melody.
It is all so much fun? A second volume is in order.
- Thomas Conrad
Ted Howe's tribute album, Revealing the Jazz Soul of Elton John, takes a piano excursion through territory that few jazz artists find the time to consider.
Howe's trio transforms each pop song into a straight ahead jazz medium filled with the swing and sway of Elton's gentle emotions. In Howe's hands, pop music swings like Ellington and sways like Basie.
Howe explores each melody with finesse. Partnering with acoustic bass and drums, he settles in comfortably with each lingering melody. The session runs smooth and gentle, with creative fires burning on high heat. Two tracks which add Latin percussion to the formula sizzle with more intensity than the rest. Howe likes to build his phrases and let them diminish in caressing waves that rise and fall with subtle emotion.
John Patitucci's soulful solo lines weave among Howe's swirling piano melodies, creating a pleasant affair. Life is simple. There are no problems to consider. Just enjoy the music without regrets. After all, Elton John's songs do deal with our emotions in a relaxed manner. It's all about reflection and finding answers to our problems.
- Jim Santella
Pianist Ted Howe missed the centennial of Duke Ellington's birth by six years with this release. In late '98 and '99 there were more tributes to the Duke spinning around out there than you could count. I don't recall anybody honoring Ellington via the piano trio route, though, and Duke himself rarely recorded in the format— Money Jungle (Blue Note, 1962), with bassist Charles Mingus and drummer Max Roach, stands out as an exception.
On Ellington, the pianist and his trio give ten of Duke's most beloved compositions the piano trio treatment, delving deep into the Ellington songbook with an informed gusto. Their respect for the music is obvious, with Howe and Company employing an array of styles from deep blues to sensual Latin and a gorgeously, dreamily classical take on "A Sentimental Mood." "In My Solitude" has a gentle, lilting Brazilian feeling, featuring drummer Jerry Fields on cajon, and "Mood Indigo" features bassist Neal Starkey taking the lead on melody.
Howe began this recording as a set for use by the Ruth Mitchell Dance Theatre, as music for the purpose of choreographing his "Ellington Show." Then this CD happened along the way. Sometimes when an artist isn't sitting down with the expressed desire to create timeless art, timeless art happens anyway. It did here, in an extraordinarily fine tribute that gets to the core truths of the songs while giving those truths new perspectives— Ellington done with a deft mix of reverence and innovation.
- BY DAN McCLENAGHAN
Ted Howe is a veteran jazz musician who seems to be treading on dangerous ground by tackling a Duke Ellington songbook, not exactly an original idea. The pianist was originally hired to choreograph his long-running Ellington program for a ballet performance by the Ruth Mitchell Dance Theatre in Atlanta.
In the process of recording the music for the show's producer, he realized that he had a viable CD in the making. Howe chose ten pieces from Ellington's vast repertoire, but the pianist came up with some imaginative approaches, mixing various styles into each track.
Accompanied by two talented musicians, bassist Neal Starkey and drummer Jerry Fields, he dreams up a wild Latin chart for an extended workout of "Caravan" that showcases Fields to good effect. His playful side comes across in the whimsical take of "Sophisticated Lady." His perky interpretation of "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" utilizes his effective stride piano chops. His introduction to "Take the 'A' Train" suggests a locomotive getting underway, before venturing into more familiar bop variations of this famous theme song.
It is refreshing to discover musicians the caliber of Ted Howe and his trio, who can find new ground to explore within well-known compositions by a jazz legend.
- Ken Dryden
The purpose of this recording was for pianist Ted Howe’s Duke Ellington show to be choreographed for an Atlanta, Georgia- based dance troupe. Thankfully, Howe and his trio recorded a portion of the Duke’s songbook for mass consumption, while exuding a cheery and indubitably upbeat vibe along the way. Fused with snappy rhythms, Latin slants, and brisk swing vamps, the trio succeeds at instilling a personalized approach into familiar territory.
Howe simply glides across his acoustic piano keys, featuring bluesy trills and sobering movements, and he also revs his band up on several occasions. But this divergent program highlights the pianist’s versatility. For example, he duly conveys warmth via softly stated harmonies on In A Sentimental Mood, while incorporating stride piano techniques on It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. The trio frames its rendition of Take The A Train upon a slickly articulated swing vibe. Howe’s game plan translates into a highly entertaining and somewhat motivational reckoning of Ellington’s legacy.
- BY GLENN ASTARITA
This CD-one master paying tribute to another-was almost called Accidental Ellington. It began as a guide to familiarize choreographers for the Ruth Mitchell Dance Theatre, in Atlanta, with Howe's well-known paean to the Duke. After a few first takes, Howe had an epiphany: "I realized we were also making a 'record.'" Duh! When you got it, share it.
I wonder how the dancers' body language has influenced Howe's arrangements of "Caravan" and "Sophisticated Lady." They reveal Howe at his most musically mischievous, toying with tempos and extending parts of the tunes but never losing their clever reharmonizations. "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" and "Take the 'A' Train" show off Howe's tightly knit trio with bassist Neal Starkey and drummer Jerry Fields. "In a Sentimental Mood" has a noir, modal feel to it that Fields expands on with the cajon drum.
Starkey's highlight comes on his lead playing in "Mood Indigo." Howe's high points never end; fluidity like his is rare. "Prelude to a Kiss" is pure reverence, and his solo stride track, "It Don't Mean a Thing," is pure joy.
BY HARVEY SIDERS