Jazz CD Reviews
Christian Howes – Heartfelt – Resonance Records
Published on September 9, 2008
Christian Howes – Heartfelt – Resonance Records RCD-1006, 58:10 ***:
(Christian Howes: violin, Octave Geiger cello; Roger Kellaway: piano; Andreas Oberg: guitar; Bob Magnusson: bass; Nathan Wood: drums)
Self-described post-bop violinist Christian Howes may shy away from comparisons to Stéphane Grappelli or Joe Venuti, but the young violinist certainly shares those artists’ melodic and lyrical gifts. On his newest outing, Heartfelt, Howes performs ten tracks with a healthy bent in the direction of mainstream accessibility, emphasizing romanticism, conventional performances, and arrangements with a pop sensibility.
In this album’s commercial context, then, it makes sense Howes’ collaborator is pianist/arranger Roger Kellaway, a long-time Los Angeles studio musician who has worked on numerous television, film and popular recording projects, including discs by Barbra Striesand, Joni Mitchell and Natalie Cole. That does not mean Heartfelt is a mercenary fizzle, but several cuts do embrace a rather conservative instrumentation.
Heartfelt opens with a dreamy – some might even dub drowsy – orchestrated version of Russ Freeman’s standard “The Wind.” That’s followed by a lush rendition of Ennio Morricone’s nostalgic theme for Cinema Paradiso, an unobtrusive piece. The proceedings don’t come alive until the third presentation, “Alone Together,” where Howes reveals some enticing swing, but is easily outmatched by Kellaway’s uptempo keyboard repartee. Kellaway also shines on his alluring “Invasion of the Forest,” an understated and charming ballad, where the ensemble slips in some urbane Latin traces that complement the song’s inherently melodic organization.
Other highlights involve a nimble reading of Bill Evans’ “Walkin’ Up,” which showcases Howes’ expressive range and violin verve and Kellaway’s virtuosity; a pre-bop piano-violin duet on Benny Goodman’s “Opus Half,” complete with Kellaway’s lively stride-style piano playing; and a flowing “Bernie’s Tune,” marked by Andreas Oberg’s Wes Montgomery-esque guitar, and a few unpredictable curves from Howes.
It is unfortunate, though, that some material is marred by arrangements that evoke arrangers such as Don Sebesky or Bob James, with sentimental strings and a rigidly crossover approach, that give Heartfelt an uneven quality. Howes might gain a larger audience with this release, but he may also lose some of his already loyal core fan base.
1 The Wind
2 Cinema Paradiso
3 Alone Together
4 That’s All It Was
5 Invasion of the Forest
6 Walkin’ Up
7 The Peacocks
8 Opus Half
9 Early Autumn
10 Bernie’s Tune
— Doug Simpson
[Have to disagree, Doug. I think Sebesky is one of the greatest arrangers around, Bob James is also very good, and personally I loved the CD…Ed.]