Dominic Howles Quintet – Along Came Benny (Bopcentric Music BCCD06. CD review by Alison Bentley)
The CD cover shows Dominic Howles and his double bass in glorious ’60s black and white, evoking the era of Benny Golson’s recordings, such as his Along Came Betty. But this recording is no pastiche: Golson’s spirit is there, but the compositions and arrangements are Howles’ own, plus a couple of surprises, all swung by some of London’s finest.
Along Came Benny is full of optimistic shuffly swing, pushing forward with the trumpet (Steve Fishwick) and tenor (Dave O’Higgins) harmonies twisting unexpectedly in Golson style. The trumpet is full of Dizzy fire, drawing bop curlicues out into wider shapes. The sax has a smooth sound with some Bob Berg toughness – Howles admires Berg’s live recordings with Cedar Walton. There’s never a loss of energy in the bass solos – Howles sounds alert, like a cat ready to spring, with fine intonation. Meet Me At The Deli has a delicious swivel-hipped groove, slinky and steeped in the blues. “My elder brother had an album called The Electrifying Eddie Harris which was on a lot around the house when I was growing up. I like the way Harris just lets a groove happen and lets things develop organically,” says Howles. Steve Fishwick’s solo is full of surprising intervals that push the chords to their limits. The tenor solos with a bluesy drawl, before breaking out into high energy runs. The head out has them swapping bites of the blues – maybe chatting at the north London deli in question.
“Life can be tinged with happiness and sorrow,” say the liner notes; Different Destinations has a bright tune, but the chords bring a melancholy touch. An upbeat jazz waltz, the harmony pulls the tune forward as much as the excellent drumming (Matt Fishwick). Nick Tomalin (he’s on half the tracks) on piano picks up Howles’ phrases and scampers away with them. We Need To Talk About Benny is based on some ascending chords from Stablemates, which give it an uplifting mood. Ross Stanley, sharing the piano seat with Tomalin, is poised perfectly behind the beat, while Steve Fishwick has a Woody Shaw-like energy and focus. The Latin ballad Song For Ann is for Howles’ late mother. The harmonies are sweet, without the twist of Angostura bitters stirred into some of the other pieces, and O’Higgins’ sax has a slow vibrato that brings out the tune’s emotional depth. The irrepressibly Latin Ed’s Calypso is for Howles’ daughter who “insists I only write her upbeat tunes.” Fishwick’s flugel notes break like light on water, and Tomalin’s piano is boppily sparkling. Like John (for Coltrane) tucks its Countdown-like chords away among the looser ones, and the album ends with unhurried solos, waiting nonchalantly for the Last Blues Home to arrive. Matt Fishwick stretches out superbly in the extended fours. Howles is a Lou Donaldson fan, and has taken his cue from the easy swing feel on the latter’s Fried Buzzard.
The two covers reveal more of Howles’ excellent arranging skills: Prince’s Slow Love is speeded up into a Night In Tunisia groove, while the Police’s Message In A Bottle swings in five. Howles: “It’s best to learn the melody by ear, and then let your ears take you somewhere else re the arrangement.” The chords are intriguing, culminating in the coda (“sending out an SOS”) where Stanley solos brilliantly over bitter-sweet horn harmonies.
“Jazz will only go where we the composers and musicians take it,” Benny Golson once said; there’s a sense that this album takes musical discipline and fills it with creative freedom – and it’s all beautifully recorded.