Features/Interviews (PP)

Howl Quartet (new album ‘Airglow’, launch tour dates 17-21 July)

As Howl Quartet launch their second album, Airglow, one of the band’s two saxophonists, Dan Smith, explains how the group is taking its freewheeling music out to the world. Feature by John Bungey.

Howl Quartet. L-R: Matt Parkinson, Dan Smith, Harry Brunt, Pete Komor. Photo credit Dave Hamblett

They’re called Howl Quartet and say they’re “a garage band at heart” but anyone expecting some sort of three-chord feral din would be wide of the mark. This double saxophone-led group plays freewheeling acoustic jazz that’s not afraid to take risks but retains a strong melodic core.

On the quartet’s new, second album, Airglow, moods turn from exuberant to reflective: there’s skewed funk (Martello); a nod to Ornette Coleman (Smudge) and a glacial tango vibe (Salt House) as saxophone lines sinuously interweave. We’re closer to Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear than punk.

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“We’re very happy with how the recording turned out,” says Dan Smith, alto saxophonist. “The second album takes the writing in a new direction and we’re all really proud of how it sounds.”

In mid-July the band take the music on tour. “We’re looking forward to seeing how the tunes develop,” says Smith. “Live, the mix of composed and improvised is fairly even – maybe tending towards improvised because we do it all off-chart.
“A strong feature of our music is the collaborative nature of the band, which comes from a shared musical experience over a long period.”

The four – Smith, Harry Brunt, tenor saxophone, Pete Komor, bass, and Matt Parkinson, drums – are graduates of either the Royal Welsh College of Music or the Royal Academy. “We’re a co-led band but Harry was probably the instigator,” says Smith. “When we first got together we were playing gigs in London. Then we clicked and decided to create a formal band. Through years of working in a plethora of musical contexts, we noticed a shared appreciation for group interplay and composition.”

First came an EP then a debut album, Life as We See It, made with funding from the Help Musicians charity. Smith cites two bands as inspiration for the sonic space they hoped to explore on the first album: the Bad Plus and the Claudia Quintet – groups who share saxophonist Chris Speed and who travel between the avant-garde and the easily accessible.

In a band democracy all the members of Howl write. “Our four individual compositional voices have informed each other’s over the years, and although we write in different ways, the group dynamic ends up shaping all the compositions to a degree.”

Smith first picked up the saxophone towards the end of primary school and a love of jazz developed in his teen years. “My entry was through the RH Factor [trumpeter Roy Hargrove], going out in my mate’s car, we’d be absolutely blasting that music.”

As Howl Quartet found their feet, Smith says:  “we developed a shared fascination with two horn-led groups, working on the idea of ‘the line’ in jazz and classical music and incorporating contrapuntal and melodic approaches learned from Bach. Certainly this was important to the early Howl days for me and Harry.”

As is the way in the jazz life, all the members have other projects but  Howl Quartet has its own momentum. “We have new tunes that we’ll be playing on tour,” says Smith. “We’d like to put a third album out and further refine the sound created on this album.” Streaming success in Germany suggests potential there too.

So are Howl Quartet really still a garage band? If so, they seem more of a Tesla than a Trabant. Smith thinks the spirit is there. “It still feels a bit like that as now we don’t live in the same place in London.” (Smith is back in his native Hertfordshire and Pete Komor is in Birmingham). “We’re not seeing each other as often as we did. So even though it might be a rehearsal in someone’s house, it does still feel like we’re meeting up in the garage on Sunday afternoon. It has this feel that I quite like – the music can get quite rowdy. I love it.”

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Airglow is released on 14 July 2023.
The launch tour runs July 17-21, starting at Ashburton Arts Centre, Devon on 17 July and includes Pizza Express Jazz Club, London W1, on 19 July BOOKINGS


17.07.23 Ashburton Arts Centre
18.07.23 Southampton Jazz Club
19.07.23 Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho
21.07.23 Bear Club, Luton

And later….
03.10.23 Fringe In The Round, Bristol
04.10.23 Flute and Tankard, Cardiff
24.10.23 Fougou Jazz, Exeter

LINK: howlquartet.com

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