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Ollie Howell - Sutures And Stitches Rating: 4-5 out of 5 A truly remarkable record, not only for the quality of the music but also due to the circumstances that inspired its creation. An incredibly mature début

Ollie Howell

“Sutures And Stitches”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4636)

This début album from the young drummer and composer Ollie Howell is a truly remarkable record, not only for the quality of the music but also due to the circumstances that inspired its creation. In 2009 Howell was diagnosed with a brain malformation known as Arnold Chiari Type 2, a condition that has resulted in several spells of hospitalisation and a series of neurosurgical operations, the latest as recent as April 2012. The resultant sutures and stitches give the album its title and Howell’s liner notes speak not only of his pain and anguish but also his determination to recover and gain something positive from his experiences. All of the music on this album was written during this period, some of it from Howell’s hospital bed, with some of the pieces offering a real grittiness in the writing and the playing, while others exhibit more reflective tendencies, no doubt reflecting the range of moods and emotions experienced by Howell during his trials and tribulations.

Born in Wallingford Howell started on piano at the age of seven before moving to the drums at the age of thirteen. A graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama his quintet won the Peter Whittingham Development Award in 2012, the prize money helping to fund this exceptional album. Howell has been mentored by two musical giants, Quincy Jones and “Kind Of Blue” drummer Jimmy Cobb who have both issued glowing endorsements of the young Englishman’s talents.

Listening to “Stitches And Sutures” it’s immediately clear as to why Jones and Cobb got so excited. Howell’s writing exhibits a remarkable degree of maturity and the playing by a quintet featuring some of the UK’s best young jazz musicians is exemplary throughout. Joining Howell are tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles and double bassist Max Luthert, both from the trio Partikel, plus pianist Matt Robinson and trumpeter Mark Perry. The music is inspired by the “Blue Note” sound of Howell’s drum hero Art Blakey but also embraces contemporary post bop developments on both the London and New York scenes, the only non-original tune being Howell’s arrangement of the standard “Dear Old Stockholm”.

The album exhibits strong melodic themes and powerful, driving contemporary grooves, some of the music having an edge and urgency that suggests it could have been recorded in New York rather than at Derek Nash’s Clown’s Pocket Studio in London. In fact there’s more than a grain of truth in that statement, the album was in fact mixed and mastered by Whirlwind’s house engineer Tyler McDiarmid in the Big Apple.

Howell’s approach is typified by the introduction to the opening “Later On”, Robinson’s urgent “Morse Code” like piano vamp underscoring the blend of Eagles’ tenor and Perry’s trumpet. The subsequent solos by Eagles and Perry are more reflective and superbly constructed but there’s still an agreeable edge to the music. 

Similarly “Beyond” offers further excellent interplay between Eagles and Perry plus a superb solo from Eagles who really digs in on tenor as he swoops up and down the instrument’s registers. Pianist Robinson, like Howell and Perry an exciting new discovery for me, also takes the opportunity to shine with a pithy solo. Howell’s drumming is crisp and supportive and includes a number of colourful flourishes and he’s left on his own at the end, but it’s hardly a conventional drum solo.

The album includes five pieces of solo improvisation, one by each member of the quintet, which serve as introductions to formally composed pieces. Howell’s gently colourful “Drum Intro” ushers us into the stately ballad “So Close, So Far” which offers Robinson and Perry the opportunity to show the more lyrical side of their talents.

Overall “Angry Skies” is less belligerent than its title might suggest with Robinson’s ruminative solo piano intro eventually giving way to the squalling horn exchanges of Eagles and Perry. Nonetheless the music retains its melodic focus throughout.

The burnished sounds of Perry’s “Trumpet Intro” heralds “19th Day”, a richly cinematic piece distinguished by the lyrical horn interplay between Perry and Eagles. The trumpeter is inspired form throughout and there’s also a magnificently flowing solo from pianist Robinson.

At a little under nine minutes “A World Apart” represents the lengthiest track on the album and exhibits similar qualities albeit in more urgent fashion as the music grows out of an insistent piano vamp to embrace probing solos from Eagles, Perry and Robinson. Once again the playing by all five members of the group is superb, both as an ensemble and as soloists, but it it is arguably the strong narrative arc of Howell’s writing that impresses most.

Luthert’s resonant solo bass lays the foundation for the beautiful ballad “For Anya” which features Robinson at his most lyrical and flowing, complemented by the exquisite detail of Howell’s drumming. It’s perhaps appropriate that this dedication to the composer’s partner should end with a drum feature as the piece takes an expected turn. 

The gentle patter of Howell’s drums opens “They”, another excellent example of the maturity of Howell’s composing talents. Lush unison horn lines give way to a stunning solo by Perry, the assuredness of this young musician is remarkable and his playing here imparts a considerable emotional impact. He’s followed by Eagles and Luthert on this brooding slow burner of a piece.

Eagles’ solo sax mediation presages the exquisite “Two Sides” which sees the tenor man duetting thoughtfully with pianist Robinson. There’s also an impressive passage of solo piano from this recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Music. Apparently Robinson is also an impressive composer and this fact allied to the quality of his performance on this album suggests that he has a very bright future ahead of him.

“Dear Old Stockholm” is a traditional Swedish folk song that was re-worked in a jazz context by Stan Getz. Howell and his colleagues give the famous old melody an uncompromisingly modern   twist investing it with contemporary hip hop inspired grooves and a probing, needling Eagles tenor sax solo. Perry’s solo contains some of his most exuberant playing on the record with its blues inflections and vocalisations and the arrangement ends with a feature for the leader who excels throughout the record .

Robinson’s gently spacious “Piano Intro” leads to the closing “A Hollow Victory”  which ends the album on a contemplative but cautiously optimistic note. There’s a fragile beauty about Perry’s trumpet solo and there’s a hint of vulnerability in Eagles’ usually robust sound. 

“Sutures And Stitches” is an incredibly mature début and represents a major triumph for Howell, albeit one born out of adversity. It’s also a great team effort with some imperious playing by the members of the quintet and with the musicians well served by the production team of engineers Nash and McDiarmid, producer Howell and executive producer and label owner Michael Janisch.

But ultimately the album is Howell’s triumph. He may be inspired by Art Blakey but he never dominates the group as Blakey once did. Instead Howell is the kind of drummer who never imposes but always adds, his playing is always “just right” and although he deals with some pretty complicated rhythmic concepts you never notice him until you’re meant to.

I was extremely impressed with this album and hope to catch Howell somewhere on an extensive British tour that starts tonight (Friday 4th October 2013).


TOUR DATES:

Fri 4 Oct   BRADFORD Jazz Club, Bradford Irish Club, Rebecca Street, BD1 2RX 20:30 £7 / £5 http://jatpjazz.blogspot.co.uk/

Sun 6 Oct LOWESTOFT, Milestones Jazz Club, Hotel Hatfield, The Esplanade NR33 0QG 20:30   £7 / £6 Concessions http://www.milestonesjazzclub.co.uk/

Wed 9 Oct SHEFFIELD, The Lescar, 303 Sharrow Vale Rd, South Yorkshire, S11 8ZF 20:30 £5 http://www.jazzatthelescar.com/

Thurs 10 Oct   LONDON Kings Place (opening the Whirlwind Festival 2013) * LAUNCH *
18:30 90 York Way, London, Greater London N1 9AG - £9.50
http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/ollie-howell-quintet-sutures-stitches-official-album-launch#.UgVarmTwKo5

Thurs 17 Oct   DORKING, Watermill Jazz, Friends Life Sports and Social Club, Pixham Lane RH4 1QA
20:30   £17 / £12 http://www.watermilljazz.co.uk/

Fri 18 Oct   BRISTOL Bebop Club, Bear Yard Mews, BS8 4SD 21:00 Start - £7 / £6 http://www.thebebopclub.co.uk/

Sun 20 Oct SOUTHAMPTON Modern Jazz Club, The Bent Brief, 17-19 Lodge Rd, SO14 6RP                  
21:00   Free Entry http://www.southamptonmodernjazzclub.com/

Tue 22 Oct   BIRMINGHAM, Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick St, Digbeth, B12 0NH
20:30 Free Entry http://www.spotteddog.co.uk/whats-on/music/jazz-tuesdays/

Fri 25 Oct COLCHESTER Fleece Jazz Club, Stoke By Nayland Club Hotelmore, Keeper’s Lane Leavenheath,
CO6 4PZ   20:00 £15   http://www.dovbear.co.uk/fleece/

Mon 28 Oct   LONDON Jazz In The Round, The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, NW8 8EH  
20:00   £8 http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/jazz_in_the_round

Tue 29 Oct   CARDIFF, Dempseys Jazz Club, 15 Castle St, CF10 1BS
21:00 £7 / £5 http://homepage.ntlworld.com/brenda.obrien1/

Thurs 21 Nov POOLE, Sound Cellar, The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Dorset, BH15 1NE
20:30 £8 http://soundcellar.moonfruit.com/

Sun 24 Nov NEWCASTLE Splinter Jazz, Bridge Hotel, Castle Garth NE1 1RQ
20:00 £8 http://splinterjazz.co.uk/wordpress/

Tue 26 Nov LIVERPOOL, Parr Jazz, Parr Street Studios, 33-45 Parr Street, L1 4JN
20:30 £3 http://www.parrjazz.co.uk/

Tue 3 Dec LONDON 606 Jazz Club, 90 Lots Rd, SW10 0QD    
19:30 £8 / Free for MU members http://www.606club.co.uk/

Ollie Howell -drums, compositions
Max Luthert - double bass
Matt Robinson - piano
Duncan Eagles - tenor sax
Mark Perry - trumpet


     

Sutures And Stitches

Ollie Howell

Friday, October 04, 2013

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4-5 out of 5

Sutures And Stitches

A truly remarkable record, not only for the quality of the music but also due to the circumstances that inspired its creation. An incredibly mature début

Ollie Howell

“Sutures And Stitches”

(Whirlwind Recordings WR4636)

This début album from the young drummer and composer Ollie Howell is a truly remarkable record, not only for the quality of the music but also due to the circumstances that inspired its creation. In 2009 Howell was diagnosed with a brain malformation known as Arnold Chiari Type 2, a condition that has resulted in several spells of hospitalisation and a series of neurosurgical operations, the latest as recent as April 2012. The resultant sutures and stitches give the album its title and Howell’s liner notes speak not only of his pain and anguish but also his determination to recover and gain something positive from his experiences. All of the music on this album was written during this period, some of it from Howell’s hospital bed, with some of the pieces offering a real grittiness in the writing and the playing, while others exhibit more reflective tendencies, no doubt reflecting the range of moods and emotions experienced by Howell during his trials and tribulations.

Born in Wallingford Howell started on piano at the age of seven before moving to the drums at the age of thirteen. A graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama his quintet won the Peter Whittingham Development Award in 2012, the prize money helping to fund this exceptional album. Howell has been mentored by two musical giants, Quincy Jones and “Kind Of Blue” drummer Jimmy Cobb who have both issued glowing endorsements of the young Englishman’s talents.

Listening to “Stitches And Sutures” it’s immediately clear as to why Jones and Cobb got so excited. Howell’s writing exhibits a remarkable degree of maturity and the playing by a quintet featuring some of the UK’s best young jazz musicians is exemplary throughout. Joining Howell are tenor saxophonist Duncan Eagles and double bassist Max Luthert, both from the trio Partikel, plus pianist Matt Robinson and trumpeter Mark Perry. The music is inspired by the “Blue Note” sound of Howell’s drum hero Art Blakey but also embraces contemporary post bop developments on both the London and New York scenes, the only non-original tune being Howell’s arrangement of the standard “Dear Old Stockholm”.

The album exhibits strong melodic themes and powerful, driving contemporary grooves, some of the music having an edge and urgency that suggests it could have been recorded in New York rather than at Derek Nash’s Clown’s Pocket Studio in London. In fact there’s more than a grain of truth in that statement, the album was in fact mixed and mastered by Whirlwind’s house engineer Tyler McDiarmid in the Big Apple.

Howell’s approach is typified by the introduction to the opening “Later On”, Robinson’s urgent “Morse Code” like piano vamp underscoring the blend of Eagles’ tenor and Perry’s trumpet. The subsequent solos by Eagles and Perry are more reflective and superbly constructed but there’s still an agreeable edge to the music. 

Similarly “Beyond” offers further excellent interplay between Eagles and Perry plus a superb solo from Eagles who really digs in on tenor as he swoops up and down the instrument’s registers. Pianist Robinson, like Howell and Perry an exciting new discovery for me, also takes the opportunity to shine with a pithy solo. Howell’s drumming is crisp and supportive and includes a number of colourful flourishes and he’s left on his own at the end, but it’s hardly a conventional drum solo.

The album includes five pieces of solo improvisation, one by each member of the quintet, which serve as introductions to formally composed pieces. Howell’s gently colourful “Drum Intro” ushers us into the stately ballad “So Close, So Far” which offers Robinson and Perry the opportunity to show the more lyrical side of their talents.

Overall “Angry Skies” is less belligerent than its title might suggest with Robinson’s ruminative solo piano intro eventually giving way to the squalling horn exchanges of Eagles and Perry. Nonetheless the music retains its melodic focus throughout.

The burnished sounds of Perry’s “Trumpet Intro” heralds “19th Day”, a richly cinematic piece distinguished by the lyrical horn interplay between Perry and Eagles. The trumpeter is inspired form throughout and there’s also a magnificently flowing solo from pianist Robinson.

At a little under nine minutes “A World Apart” represents the lengthiest track on the album and exhibits similar qualities albeit in more urgent fashion as the music grows out of an insistent piano vamp to embrace probing solos from Eagles, Perry and Robinson. Once again the playing by all five members of the group is superb, both as an ensemble and as soloists, but it it is arguably the strong narrative arc of Howell’s writing that impresses most.

Luthert’s resonant solo bass lays the foundation for the beautiful ballad “For Anya” which features Robinson at his most lyrical and flowing, complemented by the exquisite detail of Howell’s drumming. It’s perhaps appropriate that this dedication to the composer’s partner should end with a drum feature as the piece takes an expected turn. 

The gentle patter of Howell’s drums opens “They”, another excellent example of the maturity of Howell’s composing talents. Lush unison horn lines give way to a stunning solo by Perry, the assuredness of this young musician is remarkable and his playing here imparts a considerable emotional impact. He’s followed by Eagles and Luthert on this brooding slow burner of a piece.

Eagles’ solo sax mediation presages the exquisite “Two Sides” which sees the tenor man duetting thoughtfully with pianist Robinson. There’s also an impressive passage of solo piano from this recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Music. Apparently Robinson is also an impressive composer and this fact allied to the quality of his performance on this album suggests that he has a very bright future ahead of him.

“Dear Old Stockholm” is a traditional Swedish folk song that was re-worked in a jazz context by Stan Getz. Howell and his colleagues give the famous old melody an uncompromisingly modern   twist investing it with contemporary hip hop inspired grooves and a probing, needling Eagles tenor sax solo. Perry’s solo contains some of his most exuberant playing on the record with its blues inflections and vocalisations and the arrangement ends with a feature for the leader who excels throughout the record .

Robinson’s gently spacious “Piano Intro” leads to the closing “A Hollow Victory”  which ends the album on a contemplative but cautiously optimistic note. There’s a fragile beauty about Perry’s trumpet solo and there’s a hint of vulnerability in Eagles’ usually robust sound. 

“Sutures And Stitches” is an incredibly mature début and represents a major triumph for Howell, albeit one born out of adversity. It’s also a great team effort with some imperious playing by the members of the quintet and with the musicians well served by the production team of engineers Nash and McDiarmid, producer Howell and executive producer and label owner Michael Janisch.

But ultimately the album is Howell’s triumph. He may be inspired by Art Blakey but he never dominates the group as Blakey once did. Instead Howell is the kind of drummer who never imposes but always adds, his playing is always “just right” and although he deals with some pretty complicated rhythmic concepts you never notice him until you’re meant to.

I was extremely impressed with this album and hope to catch Howell somewhere on an extensive British tour that starts tonight (Friday 4th October 2013).


TOUR DATES:

Fri 4 Oct   BRADFORD Jazz Club, Bradford Irish Club, Rebecca Street, BD1 2RX 20:30 £7 / £5 http://jatpjazz.blogspot.co.uk/

Sun 6 Oct LOWESTOFT, Milestones Jazz Club, Hotel Hatfield, The Esplanade NR33 0QG 20:30   £7 / £6 Concessions http://www.milestonesjazzclub.co.uk/

Wed 9 Oct SHEFFIELD, The Lescar, 303 Sharrow Vale Rd, South Yorkshire, S11 8ZF 20:30 £5 http://www.jazzatthelescar.com/

Thurs 10 Oct   LONDON Kings Place (opening the Whirlwind Festival 2013) * LAUNCH *
18:30 90 York Way, London, Greater London N1 9AG - £9.50
http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/music/ollie-howell-quintet-sutures-stitches-official-album-launch#.UgVarmTwKo5

Thurs 17 Oct   DORKING, Watermill Jazz, Friends Life Sports and Social Club, Pixham Lane RH4 1QA
20:30   £17 / £12 http://www.watermilljazz.co.uk/

Fri 18 Oct   BRISTOL Bebop Club, Bear Yard Mews, BS8 4SD 21:00 Start - £7 / £6 http://www.thebebopclub.co.uk/

Sun 20 Oct SOUTHAMPTON Modern Jazz Club, The Bent Brief, 17-19 Lodge Rd, SO14 6RP                  
21:00   Free Entry http://www.southamptonmodernjazzclub.com/

Tue 22 Oct   BIRMINGHAM, Spotted Dog, 104 Warwick St, Digbeth, B12 0NH
20:30 Free Entry http://www.spotteddog.co.uk/whats-on/music/jazz-tuesdays/

Fri 25 Oct COLCHESTER Fleece Jazz Club, Stoke By Nayland Club Hotelmore, Keeper’s Lane Leavenheath,
CO6 4PZ   20:00 £15   http://www.dovbear.co.uk/fleece/

Mon 28 Oct   LONDON Jazz In The Round, The Cockpit, Gateforth Street, NW8 8EH  
20:00   £8 http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/jazz_in_the_round

Tue 29 Oct   CARDIFF, Dempseys Jazz Club, 15 Castle St, CF10 1BS
21:00 £7 / £5 http://homepage.ntlworld.com/brenda.obrien1/

Thurs 21 Nov POOLE, Sound Cellar, The Blue Boar, 29 Market Close, Dorset, BH15 1NE
20:30 £8 http://soundcellar.moonfruit.com/

Sun 24 Nov NEWCASTLE Splinter Jazz, Bridge Hotel, Castle Garth NE1 1RQ
20:00 £8 http://splinterjazz.co.uk/wordpress/

Tue 26 Nov LIVERPOOL, Parr Jazz, Parr Street Studios, 33-45 Parr Street, L1 4JN
20:30 £3 http://www.parrjazz.co.uk/

Tue 3 Dec LONDON 606 Jazz Club, 90 Lots Rd, SW10 0QD    
19:30 £8 / Free for MU members http://www.606club.co.uk/

Ollie Howell -drums, compositions
Max Luthert - double bass
Matt Robinson - piano
Duncan Eagles - tenor sax
Mark Perry - trumpet


     


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