Noah Howard, 1943-2010

Noah Howard Quartet
Schizophrenic Blues
SAJ/FMP : 1977

NH, alto; Itaro Oki, trumpet; Jean-Jacques Avenel, bass; Oliver Johnson, drums.

Noah Howard Quartet
Live at the Swing Club
SNIR : 1974

NH, alto; Michael Smith, piano; Bob Reid, bass; Noel McGhie, drums.

Noah Howard Quartet
Noah Howard Quartet
ESP : 1966

NH, alto; Ric Colbeck, trumpet; Scotty Holt, bass; Dave Grant, percussion.

Noah Howard
Live in Europe, Vol 1
Sun : 1975

NH, alto; Takashi Kako, piano; Kent Carter, bass; Muhammad Ali, drums.

More sad news. The name Noah Howard may not mean much to anyone who’s not a free jazz aficionado, but he was an important musician who released a number of key masterpieces over the past four decades.  His name has been written small in jazz history in the U.S. because he spent much of his career as an ex-patriot. Since the early 1970s, he lived in Paris and then Brussels and rarely played his home country.

Very much an independent spirit, Howard ran his own label — AltSax, which he started in 1968 — and later underwent a musical revival beginning in the mid-’90s, releasing a series of vital, adventurous albums that have yet to be fully appreciated or evaluated by most critics. We’ve selected a handful of key tracks to showcase his immense talents. Several of these are from hyper-rare albums. These are not offered as collector bait, but to underline how much of Howard’s musical legacy remains stubbornly submerged from view.

Born in New Orleans, Noah Howard began playing music in church as a child. Growing up, he started on trumpet and played with Louis Armstrong; echoes of his native city’s soulful musical heritage and his gospel roots could always be heard in his music, even in his most out excursions.

In the early 1960s, Howard was in New York City for the birth of the city’s fertile free jazz scene. His playing was deeply inspired by Albert Ayler. This influence was fully digested, but it’s fascinating to hear him paying explicit tribute to Ayler years later on “Fire March,” from 1977’s Schizophrenic Blues.

Howard made his recording debut for the legendary ESP-Disk (which he later called “a monster of deception” for never paying royalties) with a pair of exceptional albums, both captured in 1966: his self-titled first outing (recorded in January) and Live at Judson Hall, an October date with expanded lineup. The beautiful “And About Love,” from the debut, owes something to Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry’s early collaborations, as the trumpet/alto interplay of Howard and Ric Colbeck winds its way down an open, blue field.

Like many, Howard was unhappy and disillusioned with the paltry critical and commercial reception of avant garde jazz in the States and began playing gigs in Europe to more receptive audiences. He recorded the absolutely essential Black Ark in 1969. As we wrote in a Black Ark-focused post from 2006, “It’s notable as Arthur Doyle’s debut, but even more so for its stunning combination of sweet and sour sounds, woolly spontaneity and soulful structure.” We’ve reupped that post; hear the track “Ole Negro” here. During this fertile period, he was also member of Frank Wright’s ferocious band, playing on such classics as Uhuru Na Umoja (America, 1970) and One for John (BYG/Actuel, 1969) .

A classic from his European years, the spiritual “Lift Every Voice and Sing” gets a fairly straight reading on the compilation Live in Europe. Like Ayler, he makes every note count, and the fairly brief tune, clearly stated, is nevertheless just dripping with emotion, the cry in Howard’s tone tugging, reaching for literally every voice. Uncluttered, moving, quietly devastating.

“Lecke” from 1974’s Live at the Swing Club again shows Howard in a mellow mood, teasing out a hushed melody from a dramatically austere arrangement. Note how he confidently builds this ballad to a fiery crescendo, organically pushing the music into more ecstatic realms without the listener realizing how far they’ve traveled in a mere seven minutes.

Other key recordings for the intrepid listener include Space Dimension (America, 1970),  Live at the Village Vanguard (Freedom, 1972), Berlin Concert (SAJ/FMP, 1977), and Patterns/Message to South Africa (two ’70s dates combined for a 1999 Eremite re-release).

& & & & &

See also David Grundy’s Streams of Expression, which last week upped a tremendous Noah Howard post, complete with strong writing and a mighty mp3 mix.

Special thanks to GEORGE SCALA for invaluable help with this post.

What are some of your favorite Noah Howard recordings/memories?

Discussion8 Comments Category Noah Howard, tributes Tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses to EUROPEAN ECHOES:
Noah Howard, 1943-2010

  1. Terrific guy. I interviewed him for The Wire back in 2004, when he was in New York for a short stay. At that point he was running a performance space in Belgium. He had a ton of stories, and was just generally a great dude. Wish someone would reissue “Space Dimension” and “One For John” on CD.

  2. Thank you. This was a great pleasure to read, and to listen too. It has certainly been a sad year so far with lose of many significant jazz players. D:O has certainly done them all right with excellent posts and tributes. Where would I be without D:O

  3. Beautiful, thanks. Still haven’t got that Live at the Swing Club LP – it is very hard to find. And, like Phil, I’m also a little incredulous that Space Dimension wasn’t somehow combined with Uhuru na Umoja when America did its CD reissues – most of that music is from the same session, as I understand it.

    Howard’s passing has helped me to revisit his music, which was something I don’t think I fully appreciated on account of his alto tone getting to places that I, personally, didn’t want to go in many instances. Of course, as a listener, one must learn that it’s not about where YOU want to go but where the musician is going – and even someone who loves and appreciates THIS music can, admittedly, forget that sometimes. He seemed like a sweet guy and a passionate soldier, and he’ll definitely be missed.

  4. Thanks for comments, Clifford, Matthew, Phil.

    Phil — we had linked to the Wire interview transcript in our Black Ark post, but in re-editing it for this post, noticed that the Wire no longer has it up. Is that right? Do you have it available?

  5. Thanks for another outstanding (albeit sorrowful) remembrance. I came at Noah Howard sideways, getting his ESP albums only because I was in a stretch of collecting ESP albums. His Judson Hall date absolutely knocked me out.

  6. I a huge fan of the early Noah, but his work from the 80s and 90s–admittedly, I haven’t heard it all– just doesn’t do it for me. It has lost a lot of its heat; reminds me of later days Pharoah Sanders; more World than Free. I’m open to suggestions on what to listen to, but given my druthers, I’d like to have all the early stuff reissued.

  7. The transcript of my Wire interview is up once again on their site; link here:

  8. Thanks for comments on Noah Howard.I am Noah’s wife since thirty years and miss him very much .Trying to get Noah ‘s music back out as much as possible .Black ark is just reissued by Boweavel at my request.Till days before Noah died he was trying to get paid by ESP for fourty years and tow LPs and CDs and they never paid .They are abusers of musicians and artists of the worst kind.

    Noahs fanpage on facebook will be regularly updated also with music and his new webpage he was working on days before he collapsed will also be up soon.L

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