by Ian Mann
March 11, 2021
The quartet has already created a sound that is very much its own, but one that is also capable of emphasising the individual writing styles of its members within the overall group aesthetic.
“Life As We See It”
Dan Smith – alto sax, Harry Brunt – tenor sax, Pete Komor – bass, Matt Parkinson drums
Howl Quartet is a new group featuring four young London based musicians.
The release of their début album, the boldly titled, “Life As We see It”, was brought to my attention by their bassist Pete Komor, whose playing I know from his tenure at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff.
During Komor’s time in Wales I enjoyed seeing him perform at various venues in Cardiff, Brecon and Abergavenny in a variety of musical contexts. These included the RWCMD Big Band, the Afro- Cuban ensemble The Mañana Collective and with smaller groups led by saxophonists Glen Manby (alto) and Joe Northwood (tenor) and by pianists Philip Clouts and Juan Galiardo.
After graduating from the RWCMD Komor made the move to London where he is currently involved in a number of projects across a broad range of jazz genres. See http://www.petekomor.co.uk for full details.
Among this number is Howl Quartet, a chordless ensemble whose influences range through saxophonists John Coltrane and Lee Konitz to guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade. The quartet have performed regularly at London venues such as The Vortex and Kansas Smitty’s and have also appeared at the EFG London Jazz Festival.
I’m less familiar with the backgrounds of Komor’s colleagues, who presumably studied at other music colleges, although I suspect that altoist Dan Smith may also have been at RWCMD at some point.
I have, however, had some email contact with tenor player Harry Brunt, who is a close associate of guitarist Harry Christelis, leader of Moostak Trio and the co-ordinator of the jazz programme at The Green Note venue in Camden.
“Life As We See It” was recorded with the support of the Help Musicians organisation and specifically the ‘Do It Differently Fund’. The music was documented in January 2020 at Fieldgate Studio by engineers Owain Fleetwood and Andrew Lawson and the album was officially launched at a livestream performance on March 5th 2021.
The chordless structure of the group ensures that the bass and drums play a particularly vital role in the creation of the music and this is very much a quartet of equals. All four members of the group bring compositions to the table and the programme also includes an arrangement of “Invention No. 13”, written by J.S. Bach.
The inclusion of the Bach piece gives some indication as to the breadth of the quartet’s influences. Besides jazz there also elements of folk, world music and contemporary dance music and electronica.
Given that my first point of contact with the band was through Komor (also a highly competent trombonist, incidentally) it is perhaps appropriate that the album should commence with his composition “Woof”. Given the chordless nature of the line up it shouldn’t be too surprising that the music sometimes resembles something that Ornette Coleman’s groups might have attempted. This rousing opener includes plenty of vigorous interplay between the two saxes, plus brief solo forays for each, alongside skilfully integrated bass and drum features. Komor himself combines a huge tone with an admirable dexterity. Drummer Parkinson’s playing is bright, crisp and imaginative throughout.
Allied to this highly skilled rhythm combination saxophonists Smith and Brunt also make a great team. The two horns often provide unison theme statements but are also adept at playing off each other, introducing counter melodies and other elements of counterpoint. They complement each other superbly throughout the recording, and even during their individual solo statements one never gets the impression that they are competing with each other. One suspects that the twin sax small group line ups of bands such as Polar Bear and Outhouse may have been an influence on this younger generation of musicians. This is also suggested in the writing, such as on Smith’s “Nobody, Nowhere”, a more impressionistic and loosely structured piece than Komor’s opener that allows the two saxophonists greater room to spread out in a spirit of collective exploration.
Brunt’s tune “Dutch Courage” emerges out of a powerfully plucked double bass motif and combines arresting sax melodies with powerful, almost funky rhythms. Both saxophonists deliver incisive solo statements in addition to combining effectively on a piece whose headlong energy will doubtless render it a live favourite when regular gigging eventually returns.
Smith and Brunt combine their writing talents on the saxophone duet “One For The Hedge”, their individual lines playfully intertwining as they jointly exhibit all those virtues previously described. The intricacy of the piece suggests that is composed rather than spontaneously improvised.
Smith’s “Benoit’s Reprise” is introduced by the combination of alto sax and double bass, doubling up on the tricky, slippery, boppish melody line. The playful mood continues with the addition of tenor and brushed drums and the piece also includes a bass feature for the consistently impressive Komor.
“Invention No. 13” is a brief exploration of the intricacies of the J.S. Bach composition by the saxophone duo of Smith and Brunt. The pair negotiate the complexities of the piece with great technical skill and considerable aplomb.
The rhythm team take over for the introduction to Parkinson’s composition “Back to Basics”, which is ushered in by the sounds of double bass and brushed drums. The saxes sketch a melody to complement Komor’s already mellifluous bass motif, before stretching out to deliver individual solos. The piece ends as it began with the sounds of the composer’s drums and Komor’s insistent but melodic bass. Parkinson’s piece represents something of an ‘earworm’ and is another item that is surely destined to become a favourite in live performance.
The drummer is a prolific composer and the tune “Badger” also comes from his pen. This boasts another strong and arresting melodic theme that provides the springboard for solos from Komor on bass and Brunt on tenor, the latter delivering some of his most powerful playing of the set.
Parkinson’s drums introduce Smith’s “Chew Bamboo”, another engaging offering in the now familiar Howl Quartet house style. The melodic invention of the twin reeds allied to the rhythmic creativity of the bass and drums is an effective combination, with Komor’s bass frequently straddling both roles, a typified by his solo here.
The album concludes with Smith’s “Fairfield”, a tune inspired by a folk melody. This presents Howl Quartet at their most impressionistic and bucolic, as bowed bass, mallet rumbles and cymbal shimmers combine with the gently piping saxophone melodies.
“Life As We See It” represents a highly impressive début offering from Howl Quartet. For such a young band the quartet is a remarkably well balanced unit, with the considerable individual talents of its members combining to create an even more impressive whole.
Drawing upon British, European and American influences the quartet has already created a sound that is very much its own, but one that is also capable of emphasising the individual writing styles of its members within the overall group aesthetic.
With no individual piece lasting for more than five minutes no track is allowed to outstay its welcome. Nevertheless the quartet manage to convey a wealth of information during these relatively concise running times, which represents an impressive feat in itself. There are plenty of good ideas, but no musical ‘flab’, here.
Howl Quartet recently launched “Life As We See It” with a livestream performance on Facebook. I tuned into this and thoroughly enjoyed it, with Benoit’s Reprise”, “Back to Basics” and “Badger” all figuring on the set list. However there was also a wealth of new tunes which suggests that the band have amassed enough material for a second album already, as is so often the case with the UK’s highly creative jazz fraternity.
In the meantime we have this excellent début to enjoy. “Life As We See It” comes packaged in a striking sleeve designed by Hannah May Smith and is available in vinyl, CD and digital formats from the Howl Quartet’s Bandcamp page here;
The band’s own website is here; http://www.howlquartet.com
blog comments powered by Disqus