Live review

Howl Quartet and Howes3 at the Vortex

Howl Quartet and Howes3
(Vortex, Dalston. 31 August 2019. Review by Lauren Bush)


Howl Quartet (Photo: Martin Hummel)

Ubuntu Music has been signing and presenting some terrific acts in the last several years, and their showcase at The Vortex on Saturday night was no exception. Two rather different undiscovered bands were brought to the forefront to a jam-packed house. 

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Starting off the evening was Howl Quartet – a double-saxophone led quartet playing traditional bebop-style jazz with memorable twists along the way. Dan Smith on alto, and Harry Brunt on tenor took turns introducing their own compositions and sharing tidbits about the band. Each piece was different from the last and they utilised all the different possible combinations of the band. On a few tunes, the bass player, Pete Komor, played harmonic intervals on the bass, changing the depth of sound. His solos were tuneful and even funky at times. In other places, both saxophones played in unison, but equally, they took turns responding to each other in the bebop-line style melodies. 

A particularly lovely moment was Smith’s take on a folk song entitled Fairfield. It had a beautiful melody and utilised a softness in the middle of their set that was perfectly timed. The band finished with an uptempo tune of Brunt’s called Yesterday’s Lentils. They dug in and had a great time blowing over it. The drummer, Matt Parkinson, played some fills and soloed a bit as he tried to cajole Komor into another solo, smiles all around. It was clear that these musicians don’t take themselves too seriously and as a result, they write music that inspires them to play this traditional style with a new spin and a renewed spirit.


Howes3 (Photo: Martin Hummel)


The second act of this double bill was a change of pace. Howes3 are a piano and synths based trio lead by Oli Howe. Based in Brighton, this group do often make it into the city, playing more commonly at clubs where people would stand and maybe even dance. It was a shame that The Vortex isn’t really set up for this format, as there were several guests who clearly had the urge to be up on their feet.

Their first tune was their single called Moving Forward. While the ideas are simple and don’t evolve much, they take just the right amount of time to solo and hook in their listeners. These pieces have all the components of skilled jazz musicians who could play straight-ahead and nail it, but they’ve found a niche that appeals to fans and gives them the platform to still improvise, create and challenge themselves as a band. 

Each song was slightly different from the last – Too Many Kicks played with time and utilised silence in an intriguing way. Electric bass player Marcus Porter played some intricate solos, Victor Wooten style, while Howe used the synthesizers, at times, to sound like a horn line. 

Playing Abdullah Ibrahim’s Water from an Ancient Well was an absolutely brilliant moment of honesty from all three players. Howe played only the piano and pulled out all the bluesy tones. It was a real “Take You to Church” moment that showed their versatility and dedication.

Luke Campbell on the drums had an important job of keeping the groove going and he fulfilled his duties, locking in with each style and steering the way. 

Their final composition was Avenue, their other single available to fans, and utilised a drum-machine of sorts. It was an interesting touch, as it brought a new sound to the music, but was only minimally used. It maybe improved the song, but either needs to be more thoroughly integrated or left at home. 

Overall, this lesser known trio needs to be less lesser known. Their music is captivating, detailed and wholly entertaining.

Future gigs

Howl Quartet
24 November – The Green Note as part of the LJF
16 October – Kansas Smitty’s
19 November – Oslo, supporting Taylor McFerrin,
27/28 November – Jazz Café supporting Billy Cobham

Categories: Live review

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