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Dominic Howles Quintet

Along Came Benny


by Ian Mann

July 23, 2019


Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive.

Dominic Howles Quintet

“Along Came Benny”

(Bopcentric Music BCCD06)

Dominic Howles – double bass, Steve Fishwick – trumpet & flugelhorn, Dave O’Higgins – tenor saxophone, Matt Fishwick – drums, Ross Stanley or Nick Tomalin – piano

Bassist and composer Dominic Howles started his musical career in Bristol playing electric bass in a variety of different bands across a variety of genres including jazz, rock and reggae. His interest in jazz was piqued by seeing Weather Report live at the 1984 Glastonbury Festival with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clark and Marcus Miller all becoming increasingly influential on a young musician who had previously drawn inspiration from bass players such as Bruce Foxton, Jean Jacques Burnel, Mark King, Larry Graham and Robbie Shakespeare.

Howles’  musical colleagues in Bristol persuaded him to purchase a double bass that had allegedly once belonged to Stanley Clark and Howles subsequently became something of a fixture on the jazz scene around Bristol and Bath. Out of this came the call for him and saxophonist Ben Waghorn to join the then high profile Tommy Chase Quartet and Howles made the move to London in 1990, remaining in the capital ever since. Along the way he obtained a degree from the Jazz Course at the Guildhall School of Music under the tutelage of Pete Churchill and Simon Purcell, graduating in 1992.

The purchase of that double bass obviously acted as a musical turning point and Howles now names Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Wilbur Ware, Sam Jones, Scott La Faro, Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier as his bass heroes.

As a freelance double bassist Howles has played with a wide variety of London based musicians over the course of the last twenty plus years. Among these is Tim Richards, with whom Howles appeared on the pianist’s 2010 trio album “Shapeshifting”, a recording reviewed elsewhere on this site. Howles also played on an earlier Richards trio offering, 2003’s “Twelve By Three”.  In 2015 Howles appeared on “Telegraph Hill”, an album recorded by Richards’ new six piece band Hextet.
Review here;

Others with whom Howles has collaborated include singers Norma Winstone, Stacey Kent,  Cindy Douglas, Gill Cook, Anita Wardell,  Christine Tobin and Kevin Fitzsimmons,  saxophonists Stan Sulzmann, Bobby Wellins,  Alan Skidmore, Art Themen, Don Weller, Gary Smulyan, Julian Siegel, Pete Lukas and Tim Whitehead, guitarists Nigel Price and Phil Robson pianists John Taylor and Leon Greening, trombonist Malcolm Earle Smith and drummers Clark Tracey.  and Pete Cater. He has been part of large ensembles led by saxophonist Frank Griffith and pianist Michael Garrick and has also worked on TV and theatre soundtracks.

The busy and versatile Howles also finds time to lead his own groups and this latest release represents his third album as a leader.  2014’s “Bristolian Thoroughfare” featured a sextet that included Tomalin and both Fishwick brothers plus contributions from saxophonists Josephine Davies and Jamie O’Donnell, flautist Allison Neale and trumpeter Simon Da Silva. Combining his love of the Blue Note sound with a nod to his West Country roots the album is reviewed here;

An earlier quartet album, “Radio Cannonball”, was recorded with a group featuring Tomalin at the piano, Matt Fishwick on drums and Gareth Lockrane on flute, with O’Higgins guesting on tenor on one track.

Howles’ love of the classic hard bop, or Blue Note, sound was doubtless nurtured during his tenure with the Chase quartet and his solo records all feature playing that is very much in this vein. However the bassist has never totally abandoned his rock and pop roots and like its predecessors this latest recording features Howles’ intriguing hard bop style arrangements of pop and rock tunes, in this instance “Message In A Bottle” by The Police and “Slow Love” by Prince.

The quintet line up features tried and trusted associates in the shapes of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and flugel, Dave O’Higgins on tenor sax and Matt Fishwick at the drums with piano duties being split pretty much equally between Ross Stanley and Nick Tomalin.

The album title is a reference to the veteran saxophonist and composer Benny Golson, a particularly significant influence on this recording. Howles’ pithy liner notes offer succinct and pertinent insights into the inspiration behind each individual track.

Things kick off with the title track, Howles’ first homage to Golson with the composer remarking “I’m just a big fan of Benny Golson’s writing and playing. I still think ‘Stablemates’ is one of the best tunes ever written”.
Howles’ own tune races along at a smart clip powered by the leader’s propulsive bass and Matt Fishwick’s crisp, whip smart, Blakeyesque drumming. Steve Fishwick takes the first solo on trumpet, his playing lithe and remarkably fluent and he’s followed by O’Higgins on tenor sax, who displays similar qualities. Tomalin occupies the piano chair for this track and he convincingly follows the two horn men. There is also a feature for the leader, who steps out of the shadows to demonstrate his dexterity as a double bass soloist.

“Meet Me At The Deli” draws inspiration from saxophonist Eddie Harris and pianist Cedar Walton, both prolific jazz composers who have written pieces that have become modern day standards. Tomalin remains in the piano chair for this lively hard bop and latin flavoured item featuring concise but incisive solos from Steve Fishwick on trumpet, O’Higgins on tenor sax and Tomalin at the piano. Howles himself features with another agile bass solo and there’s an engaging series of exchanges between Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins as the track fades out, tantalisingly leaving the listener wanting more.

The first pop cover is an intriguing 5/4 arrangement of the Sting written “Message In A Bottle” with Howles commenting “my aims here were that one should still be able to sing the melody while getting away from Andy Summers’ great guitar riff”. It’s a song that has already been tackled very successfully in a jazz context by the Polish pianist Marcin Wasilewski and his trio but Howles’ version ultimately sounds very different thanks to the involvement of Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins who share the solos, the saxophonist going first.

Howles’ own “Different Destinations” relaxes the pace a little and is a richly melodic piece that features Steve Fishwick and Dave O’Higgins dovetailing effectively in the early stages before the leader takes the first real solo at the bass. Some composing bassists like to keep themselves modestly hidden away in the ensemble but Howles has the confidence to highlight his own playing, and rightly so. Tomalin combines expansiveness with lyricism at the piano, as does Steve Fishwick on elegant flugel,  his solo contrasting neatly with O’Higgins’ more robust approach on tenor. The album was also mixed and mastered by O’Higgins, who plays a key role in the success of the recording as a whole.

“We Need To Talk About Benny” is Howles’ second Golson homage, with the composer this time commenting “I like the way that the middle eight of ‘Stablemates’ starts with the chords ascending, so I used that idea as a starting point”. Matt Fishwick’s drums play an important role in an arrangement that includes a sparkling solo from Ross Stanley at the piano. This is followed by the agile eloquence of Steve Fishwick on trumpet and the rougher edged fluency of O’Higgins on tenor before Matt Fishwick comes fully into his own with an extended drum feature.

“Song For Ann” is dedicated to Howles’ late mother, who passed away in 2015. A suitably tender tribute its the album’s first true ballad and features a lush blend of flugel and tenor with gently probing solos from O’Higgins and Steve Fishwick. Howles himself adds a melodic bass solo as Matt Fishwick gravitates between brushes and sticks and Stanley adds a dash of piano lyricism.

The next item is essentially a companion piece. “Ed’s Calypso” is a dedication to Howles’ young daughter Eden, who insists that her father should only write her upbeat tunes. The sunny Caribbean rhythms and flavourings of this piece help to spark relaxed but uplifting solos from O’Higgins on tenor and Steve Fishwick on trumpet and Tomalin at the piano. Matt Fishwick enjoys a series of lively and colourful drum breaks utilising all parts of the kit.

“Slow Love” is a Howles arrangement of a lesser known Prince song - it’s certainly not one that I was previously familiar with. But like the earlier Police offering this is indubitably a jazz performance with typically inventive solos coming from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

“Like John” is Howles’ tribute to another great saxophonist and composer, in this case John Coltrane. The sound generated by the Howles quintet is more akin to the bop inspired music of the classic “Blue Train” album (Coltrane’s only release for Blue Note”) than the ‘spiritual jazz’ that Coltrane pioneered later. The quintet deliver the piece at a fast clip with Matt Fishwick’s crisp drumming fuelling powerful but eloquent solos from O’Higgins, Steve Fishwick and Stanley.

The album ends on an energetic note with “Last Blues Home”, a Howles original inspired by the veteran alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, and particularly his “Fried Buzzard” live recording from 1965. There’s no prizes for guessing what this sounds like as Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins deliver the head in tandem – their excellent ensemble playing is a characteristic of the album as a whole – before embarking on impressive individual statements. Tomalin and Howles follow and there is also a series of sparky drum breaks from Matt Fishwick as he trades choruses with the horns.

Howles’ music could never be described as ‘ground-breaking’ but there’s a refreshing honesty and unpretentiousness about the approach taken by him, the Fishwick brothers and others. Howles and the Fishwicks are among the foremost keepers of the hard bop flame in the UK, subtly updating the music for a modern day audience whilst simultaneously sticking to the virtues that made this genre of jazz such an exciting proposition in the first place. Their love for this style of music shines through, as does their mastery as players of it. One would imagine that this quintet would be a highly exciting prospect in a live, jazz club environment.

The blend of the two horns impresses throughout with both Steve Fishwick and O’Higgins also proving to be fluent and eloquent soloists, combining grace and fire in equal measure. Stanley and Tomalin each impress in the piano chair while Howles himself steps out of the shadows, soloing far more than he did on the previous septet release and seizing the opportunity with both hands. He and Matt Fishwick represent a formidable rhythm section, supportive, propulsive and swinging but also tasteful and sympathetic as the situation demands.

Howles’ writing is very much in the hard bop tradition, but his original pieces are all highly effective and his jazz arrangements of outside ‘pop’ material are both intriguing and inventive. “Along Came Benny” represents a highly enjoyable listen that should bring great pleasure to the many fans of this particular style of jazz.


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