Owen Howard - Drums and Whatnot

News & Reviews

Reviews of Recordings

Days Before and After - Fresh Sound New Talent (2004)
Pentagon - Koch Jazz
Sojourn - Koch Jazz
Time Cycles - Fresh Sound New Talent (2007)
Drum Lore - BJU Records (2010)

Drum Lore

Midwest Record - Chris Spector

One of the top creative drummers on the scene today takes a delightful look back at where he came from by paying tribute to come of the great jazz drummers of history by hitting the skins on their own formidable compositions showing just how much creative can come forward from the back of the proscenium. A real high octane set that covers it from the 30s to now, Howard will not be in the background much longer with depth showcases like this showing he knows how to give everyone some. Tasty throughout, this is a delightful way to hear the drums greatest hits. Check it out.

back to top

Down Beat Magazine Nov 2010 - James Hale

Rating ****

Owen Howard's DRUM LORE - "Witty Imagination"

Spurred by a knock against drummers' compositional abilities, Owen Howard takes a swing through 10 great drummer-penned songs, adding one of his own for good measure From Chick Web to Peter Erskine, the material is compelling, especially Jack Dejohnettes great "Zoot Suite". Howard's septet attacks it all with wit and verve. Drum Lore allows Howard to illistrate how contemporary percussionists require a firm grasp of history as much as trumpeters or saxophonists. His willingness to interpret Denzil Best, Paul Motian and Ed Blackwell, and determine how to adapt their approaches to his own style, is evidence of a fertile imagination.

back to top

Jazz Times - Bill Milkowski

Joined by a crew of kindered spirits and fellow memebers of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground. Owen Howard swing with authority while cutting up the beat in creative ways in this tribute to great drummer-composer-bandleaders like Peter Erskine("Bulgaria"), Tony Williams ("Arboretum") , Billy Hart ("Duchess"), Al Foster ("The Chief"), and Jack DeJohnette ("Zoot Suite"). Howard's penchant for color and melody on the kit is best exemplified on a stunning rendition of Paul Motian's " It Should've Happened A Lond Time Ago" and on Ed Blackwell's "Togo". He also give a nod to two old school drumming icon in Chick Webb ("Stompin' at the Savoy") and Shelly Manne ( a slick brushes showcase on "Flip" accompanied by trombonist Alan Ferber and bass clarinetist Adam Kolker). This is jazz history from ther drummer's perpective.

back to top

NEW YORK TIMES - Nate Chinen

Published: August 13, 2010

Owen Howard " Drum Lore"

A good jazz drummer works with form and color along with pulse, applying compositional principles on the fly. Some take it further, as Owen Howard, one such drummer, sets out to illustrate with “Drum Lore” (BJU Records), his conscientious fifth album. A small-group effort made with intuitive partners, like the alto saxophonist John O’Gallagher and the pianist Frank Carlberg, it features 11 tunes, each by a different figure in the jazz-drumming pantheon. Among the friskiest selections are “Arboretum,” by Tony Williams, and “Zoot Suite,” by Jack DeJohnette; among the more plaintive are Ed Blackwell’s “Togo” and Paul Motian’s “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago.” The stylistic compass favors looseness and mystery, so that even older fare, by Shelly Manne and Denzil Best, swings in a modern vein. Mr. Howard’s own contribution, “Roundabout,” has a modal melody arranged for Mr. O’Gallagher, Adam Kolker on soprano saxophone and Alan Ferber on trombone. The song is in fine company here, and it hardly feels out of place.

back to top

Days Before and After

AllAboutJazz.com - Dan McClenaghan

How does a jazz musician go about adding some zest and shine, and maybe a touch of modernity, to the old tried and true saxophone-and-rhythm-section format? Sometimes they use a Fender Rhodes instead the acoustic piano, and sometimes they put an electric guitar in the keyboard's place; and sometimes they add a guitar to the piano, to give a denser weave to the harmonics. Rare is the use of two guitars in the jazz world--that's more of a rock thing, it would seem. But that's the way saxophonist Andrew Rathbun and drummer Owen Howard do it on Days Before and After.

And it works, and it sounds fresh and sharp-edged, and brings to mind the question of why the two guitar approach isn't heard more often in jazz.

The sound that guitarists Ben Monder and Geoff Young bring to the set is mostly subtle, crisp understated single noting in front of delicate ringing chords, along with some seamless unison work with Rathbun's saxophone on the opener, "Darkness Before Light." The guitarists, in fact, sort of steal the show. Geoff Young I hadn't heard before, but Ben Monder played wonderfully on the recent Maria Schneider masterpiece, Concert in the Garden (ArtistShare, '04); the two together create an original sound, adding a very interesting harmonic glow to the mainstream effort.

Chico Hamilton, the great eighty-two year old drummer--who is still going strong--has always favored guitarists in his units, for the "sustain" that the instument brings to the ensemble sound. Monder and Young use their instruments' sustain properties fully here, painting metallic-hued washes to fill in all the spaces beneath the weave of the textures.

"The Whole Enchilada," a Owen Howard tune--all the songs are either Rathbun- or Howard-penned--gives the guitarists a chance to stretch out and wail on over into rock territory, while Rathbun gets a bit gritty on the tenor sax, with some of his most spirited playing on the set.

Rounding out the successful components of the set is drummer Howard and bassist John Hebert, an assertive rhythm team that adds a vibrant organic bounce to the sound, a sort of sonic turgor.

An outstanding set that should appeal especially to fans of jazz guitar.

back to top

AllAboutJazz.com - Paul Olson

Jazz is about more than soloing. The real meat of the music is in the collective interplay of the ensemble, the responses of one musician to what another has just done, all in real time: this is happening right now. You're not going to find a more fascinating demonstration of unique musical communication than Days Before and After, the new CD from the Andrew Rathbun-Owen Howard Quintet. Both saxophonist Rathbun and drummer Howard are mainstays of the New York jazz scene--Rathbun by way of Toronto--and both are fine composers. What's remarkable is how compatible their compositions are; there is neither excessive sonic dissimilarity nor discernible difference in quality between their material.

The quintet's filled out by bassist John Hebert and guitarists Ben Monder and Toronto ringer Geoff Young--two guitarists? It's an accomplishment in itself that such a lineup could avoid making a guitar album, no matter who the ostensible leaders of the group might be. But Monder and Young are acutely sensitive players, and they, Howard and Hebert combine synergetically, even alchemically on this session, giving Rathbun a perfect and endlessly absorbing environment for his tenor and soprano work.

Rathbun's got a unaffected, plangent tone on both tenor and soprano sax; he's got a clear-minded thematic precision in his soloing that makes a perfect contrast to the other four musicians, who seem to separate, shift, then dartingly reform, like schools of tropical fish in the ocean. After Rathbun's tenor solo on his composition "Darkness Before Light," listen to the way everyone changes time and accompaniment for Monder's solo, which starts out percussively, like steel drums--Young playing volume swells while Howard and Hebert ebb and flow, tying rhythmic knots--then ramps up into pointillistic melody. Howard's a drummer of considerable complexity but he manages to make the most thorny pattern sound open and airy; you wouldn't find it tricky until you tried to find the "one."

Howard's piece "Forward Motian," his tribute to drummer Paul Motian, shows how far this band can go. It begins with Howard playing a circular pattern using all of his kit--kick drum gloriously audible--while Hebert plays a slow, ominous, ascending bass line. Rathbun plays modally on tenor with Young and Monder's simultaneous, choppy comping alongside. Monder adds controlled feedback that turns into his solo, the band lurching forward into a slow, march-of-doom pattern, reminiscent of fellow NYC group Sonic Youth--before Rathbun restates the original theme of the song, now sounding somehow altered, experienced, even shell-shocked. Above reproach.

The rest of the CD is of similar quality. "Nomad" is a Howard-penned piece with a world music, Arabic feel, buoyed by Hebert's bass vamp and showcasing Rathbun's majestic, octave-spanning tenor. Rathbun's "Hinge" is a textural gem, with piping soprano over warm, chordal guitars: very ECM.

There's so much good music coming out of New York lately that it can be somewhat overwhelming. That said, one can't do better than Days Before and After; let's hope Rathbun and Howard keep this band together.

back to top

Jazz Pentagon

Globe and Mail Feb 1998 - Mark Miller
Rating: ***1/2

OWEN Howard, formerly of Edmonton, is just one of perhaps a couple of dozen Canadian jazzers who are making their mark in New York these days. One of the drummer's four musicians on Pentagon, saxophonist Seamus Blake, is another. Trumpeter Phil Grenadier guitarist Brad Shepik and bassist Drew Gress complete the quintet. It's tempting to listen for Canadian "qualities" here, but to the extent that they exist at all, they're abstractions. Howard,like Blake , is a generalist stylistically, perhaps the result of studying the music, at least initially, at some distance from the pressures to pursue any one direction to the exclusion of all others.

Pentagon, which is Howard's second CD to date. puts together elements of mainstream and contemporary jazz with a quiet sort of diplomacy -- even if the odd studio edit here and there disturbs the natural flow of the playing. Herbie Nichols's 2300 Skidoo from the 1950s is on the program, along with fine pieces by Howard, Wayne Shorter and the Edmomon pianist Bill Emes; Kenny Wheeler's influence can be heard occasionally in Grenadier's trumpeting and Howard's tunes, while Shepik's electronics add yet another flavour to the mix. There's also some rhythmic trickery in the music, between the various tempo shifts and the sevenbeat asymmetry of a tune like Saith. But the quintet takes everything in stride, both its pace and approach set by Howard's tasteful, compact style of drumming.

back to top

Ottawa Citizen Feb 1998
Canadian drums up Manhattan success.
Pentagon ***1/2

Canadian-born jazz musicians have now established such a strong foothold in New York City that their presence is no more unusual than the existence of musicians from Omaha or Shreveport. Drummer Owen Howard and saxophonist Seamus Blake are two of the more interesting Canadians working steadily in Manhattan. Howard's second recording as leader puts them in good company -- guitarist Brad Shepik, trumpeter Phil Grenadier and bassist Drew Gress.

The result is a hard-edged hour of music resonant with echoes of Miles Davis's mid-'6os quintet. Howard dedicates Pentagon to drummer Tony Williams and includes a version of Wayne Shorter's Capricorn. Perhaps reflective of his recent tenure with John Scofield's band, where he plays several pieces recorded originally by Shorter, Blake sounds very much like the veteran saxophonist here.

Like his mentor, Williams, Howard isn't reluctant to mess with time or deconstruct a standard. On Herbie Nichols' boppish 2300 Skidoo, Howard backs Shepik's slithery solo with some lazy shuffle patterns, then upshifts sharply to accompany Blake's aggressive tenor break. That's representative of this band's prevailing attitude that music is to be played, not revered as a museum piece.

back to top

September 1998 Down Beat Magazine - Thomas Conrad
Rating: ****

Pentagon is the second recording by Owen Howard, a young drummer/composer out of Edmonton, Alberta, by way of Greenwich Village, and its fascinations are quietly cumulative. The genre is roughly similar to the one developed by Miles Davis and his group in the mid-'60s on albums like E.S.P. and Sorcerer. Thirty years later, the five young players in Howard's band are so at home in this oblique, open-ended, harmonically ambiguous language that they are even able to update and refine it.

Guitarist Brad Shepik (you may know him as "Schoeppach") has played with Dave Douglas and other representatives of the Downtown New York scene, and also leads his own avant world music ensemble, the Commuters. Drew Gress is a bassist both propulsive and lyrical who has contributed to worthwhile projects like Fred Hersch's Dancing In The Dark (Chesky, 1993). Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake and trumpeter Phil Grenadier (brother of bassist Larryy) each play here with focus, discipline and a freedom from cliche. As a percussionist, Howard does not "keep time" but feeds his band detailed ideas about shifting energy.

As tempos twitch around, these five players think fast enough on their feet to evolve spontaneous, complex group forms, and each is compelling when he goes out alone. Howard wrote six of the nine tunes. They are angular lines around deep musical spaces. What is remarkable is how each voice is strikingly inventive, yet always stays within the modulation of the distinctive ensemble texture and tone. Grenadier unfolds luminous, free-flowing constructs on all nine songs, most memorably on the title track and "Procession." On the latter, Gress follows Grenadier's solo with an eloquent extension that translates Grenadier's best lines into his own dark language.

"Saith" (like most of Howard's songs) feels like it hovers in the air over the rhythmic updrafts whirled by the bass and drums. The head is stated in muted contrapuntal cacophony, then Blake and Grenadier break it into smaller and smaller fragments that they toss back and forth before the theme re-emerges; then Shepik takes a long solo that curves far away and always returns on itself.

Pentagon feels all of a piece, and the live-to- two-track recording by engineer Jon Rosenberg. which gets all the subtle hues and details of this music, is a major reason why.

After Howard's suggestive, pointillistic drums, the instrument that most shapes this ensemble is Shepik's guitar. Unlike many of today's restless guitarists, he does not abandon his instrument's classic timbral character. His sound is bright and pure.

The best of the non-Howard pieces is Wayne Shorter's "Capricorn.'' It is perfect for this band because it is all indirect connotations. In 1967, on Water Babies (on which the tune is recorded), even Davis and Shorter groped around a little before coming to terms with these 16 bars of melodic ambivalence. Here, "Capricorn" sounds natural and confident and tight, with three concise, elegant forays by Blake, Shepik and Grenadier in turn.

back to top


Freelance Jazz Critic - Kevin Whitehead

One great challenge facing any jazz drummer is to be alert and interactive without tripping up fellow players or cluttering up the group sound.

Owen Howard rarely plays two consecutive bars the same way, but bar by bar keeps the drum parts lean and clear instead of letting them billow in all directions. (Not that he neglects his poly rhythms.) His "Blues for Blackwell" reveals one key inspiration on that score.

I'm at least as impressed with Owen as a leader, to judge by the Quintet session Sojourn. You can hear Kenny Wheeler's influence in his beautiful horn voicings ("Sojourn"), and Dave Holland in Howard's group concept, but he never forgets own voice. The band covers a remarkable range of textures, colors, temperatures and moods- demonstrating that Howard the leader pays attention to the same qualities as Howard the drummer.

back to top

Globe and Mail Dec 1995

If the recording date on the insert notes to Sojourn is correct, then it has taken Edmonton drummer Owen Howard nearly three years to get his first release as a leader in New York into circulation. Hard to imagine what the problem was. This is a terrific debut album, one that punches all the right buttons for the mid-1990s: tunes by, or in the spirit of, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman and Kenny Wheeler, played in a loose, fiesty manner with saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Phil Gre nadier, guitarist Brad Schoeppach and bassist, Larry Grenadier. No weaknesess there; Schoeppach's range is particularly impressive, as is Howard's absolute authority. There is something of Joey Baron to his most rambunctious drumming, which is fine. There is alot of Bill Stewart's hustle to Howard's approach to swing; Fine again. And his tribute, Blues for [late Coleman drummer Ed] Blackwell, is spot on. Yes, all the right buttons.

back to top

Option Magazine Feb 1996 - Russ Summers

Howard is a young Canadian drummer who now makes his home in Brooklyn. In his music, he often approaches abstraction like many of his Brooklyn peers, but the results are different. Somehow, Howard's drumming is more straight-ahead even with its sophistication, and the writing and arrangements here encourage more conventional settings for the soloists. Not that this is bad, mind you. Howard clearly has a concept in mind, and pursues it with energy, to spare. On Thelonious Monk's "Introspection," for example, Howard drives his group through an uptempo arrangement during which he clearly sup- ports the soloists and adds a sense of true drama with tasteful dynamics. On the title track, reminiscent of compositions from trumpeter Kenny Wheeler (with whom the drummer studied at Banff), Howard establishes a taut tempo full of subtle metric modulations while retaining the form of the piece. Guitarist Brad Schoeppach shines here, contributing a biting electric solo that does not distract the least bit from the composition's subtlety. Overall form seems of utmost im- portance to Howard, and the group manages to keep it throughout, even when the music wanders into freer territory, such as during saxophonist Chris Potter's solo during "Linear Coordinates." With help from in-demand bassist Larry Grenadier and his brother Phil on trumpet, Howard's first release shows much promise for even better things to come.

back to top

Time Cycles

Special to The Journal - ROGER LEVESQUE
Edmonton-raised jazz drummer releases strong CD

NEW YORK Jazz drummer Owen Howard is making the most of the creative inspiration he has absorbed in his adopted home town. New York City. He moved there 16 years ago to attend the prestigious New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. At the time, he had every intention of returning to Edmonton, where he was raised.

Then he met and married an instructor in the Suzuki violin program and they had a child. But as Howard explained in a recent late-night conversation over Thai food in his Brooklyn neighbourhood, family considerations are just part of the larger sense of artistic community that has kept him in the BigApple.

Like many players based in the city, Howard admits he doesn't actually perform in New York that often. So what makes it such a mecca for jazz players?

"In New York, you can get players to come over and work on music with no agenda involved ,just for fun, for the love of music and playing. It's a great incubation ground. I get inspired by work ing on other people's material and there's a reciprocity. It's a real community of musicians. In this neighbour hood alone, there are thousands of mu sicians. That's what New York is great for. There's a certain energy involved I haven't experienced elsewhere."

You can hear some of that exploratory spirit on Howard's fine new fourth al bum, Time Cycles, easily his strongest showing yet. The 58 minute quintet recording is his second release on the Fresh Sound/New Talent label. Based in Barcelona, Spain, it's one of the better known independent jazz labels to fo cus on recording up-and-coming New York players (www.freshsound records.com, distributed in Canada by Fusions).

The sessions for TimeCycles involved musical friends Howard works with regularly in and around New York. The casual, polished mood of the disc offers an intuitive interplay that you can't produce overnight. Two saxophonists— John OiGallagher and Andrew Rathbun— trade off or sometime echo each otheris solo insights, as pianist Gary Versace and bassist John Hebert join the drummer to establish the rhythmic flow, finding some cool solo tangents of their own.

Several recurring two-minute tracks feature the same melody over different rhythm patterns, inspired by some of Howard's favourite African kalimba music. Longer tunes include tributes to Sonny Rollins, mood pieces and the lone cover oan intriguing take John Coltrane's famous Giant Steps. The cover of Time Cycles features a set of rusty bicycle gears, a reference to the opening number Derailer and the way shifting gears can serve as a metaphor for shifting time signatures. But there is nothing rusty about Howard's fluid ever-inventive sense of time.

"It's a real jazz record with some Coltrane-esque tunes featuring the two saxes. I wanted to just have fun with it and not think about it too much, just to keep the compositions from being too complicated so we could see where the improvising goes."

You can hear that Howard has absorbed much working as a sideman for leaders like Joe Lovano, John Abercrombie, Kenny Werner and others. Of course, there are Howard's own projects, including such artists as Chris Potter and Brad Shepik.

Despite certain advantages, the drummer underlines that developing musicians shouldn't come to New York ex pecting somesort of jazz fantasyland He notes that there are fewer places perform at since he settled in Brooklyn about 15 years ago, and because New York continues to attract more and more musicians the competition for gigs greater than it has ever been. He's just happy to have found his own creative maturity.

"With my previous records, I was always trying to get somewhere somehow. This time, it feels like I've arrived somewhere instead of getting ready go.

"Saxophonist David Liebman told me once eThe first time you record you're kind out to prove something, and after a while you realize itis about just presenting somethingi To me itis about having confidence in the whole process, from getting an idea to rehearsing and recording and seeing it through to completion. That whole process felt much more comfortable than it ever has before

back to top

Village Voice

He's always been loose-limbed, an advantage for any drummer. But on the new Time Cycles the young percussionist makes his music feel a bit more at ease with itself, too--a definite step forward. I love it when the two sax players and the pianist twist their lines together; polyphony will forever be a hoot. Bet they bring the music to a boil.

back to top

AllAboutJazz.com - Martin Gladu

Rhythm is all, goes one jazz adage. But when drummer/composer/leaders abuse their privilege, their projects often fall short by grabbing knowing listeners with overly technical and acrobatic demonstrations of mere rhythmic savoir faire. When these performances are thoughtfully conceived and rendered with maturity, such recordings have the potential of winning over audiences. In Owen Howard, the Spanish Fresh Sound New Talent label presents not only a deserving composer, but a first-rate drummer as well.

Time Cycles is a rhythmically luxuriant album with many cutting-edge improvisations. In listening, one travels through an intelligently paced and varied set of contemporary-sounding originals (the only cover is John Coltrane's "Giant Steps"). It is also quite interesting to hear Howard lead the group from behind his kit.

Like Howard, his companions are highly skilled instrumentalists. The New York-based unit, also including free-spirited pianist Gary Versace, stalwart bassist John Hebert, and reedmen Andrew Rathbun and John O'Gallagher, happily hovers between unabashed abstraction and tradition-rooted swing.

What's most striking first compositionally is the use of an overriding melodic phrase across the album. The melody of the triptych "Kalimba 1-2-3," titled after the African idiophonic instrument, is arranged and harmonized differently throughout the recording. The first installment of the phrase, with its oozing and intertwining superimposed patterns, as well as the first variation's rockier 5/4 beat and the light-headed last variation, act as aural landmarks and help unify the session.

"Slow Day," with its John Scofield/Joe Lovano-like feel, eases its way well into an alto sax/drums duet, O'Gallagher's tearing Coltrane-influenced solo on "Cryptic," and the innovative vamp at the end of "Giant Steps." The pensive melody of "Quiet Peace/Piece" showcases the softer side of the unit, especially in the outhead, where Rathbun and O'Gallagher lock horns quite sumptuously.

back to top

AllAboutJazz.com - Andrey Henkin

There are many precedents for the drummer-led album: Art Blakey, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Joe Chambers, Jack DeJohnette--and that is just naming the American contingent working (generally) within the tradition. Owen Howard's new album is difficult to place squarely within the oeuvre of any of the above players and that is as it should be. Across ten tracks, Howard makes a personal statement that nods in the direction of the Blakeys, Joneses and DeJohnettes but expands upon their influence, instead of aping it.

The line that intersects through Time Cycles is a multi-part theme, "Kalimba," found here as the second, sixth and final tracks. It acts as a rail switch, subtly shifting the direction of the album away from the other material, which is otherwise uniformly modern swing. The "Kalimba"s are where Howard the rhythm maker comes to fore but not in a way that sacrifices musical cohesion for pure bombast. And even more appealingly, this switch can be thrown whenever. During the first set of last month's CD release performance at New York's Cornelia Street Cafe, "Kalimba 1" opened the proceedings and "2"'s firm beat came after two gentle originals also from the album.

The name of the album and the packaging is based on the theme of bicycles and so it is with this in mind that the listener can identify a certain roundness and smooth motion to the pieces. Here is where the influence of a cerebral player like DeJohnette can be felt even if the thematic material is more solidly anchored in post-bop forms.

Howard, ever self-effacing, is joined by a diaphanous frontline of John O'Gallagher and Andrew Rathbun on saxes (live the angularity of the former and romanticism of the latter were thrown into stark relief), omnipresent and omniscient pianist Gary Versace (who was replaced at the gig by Henry Hey on electric piano to drastically different effect) and the probing bass of John Hebert. A collection of some of the city's best players, all who haven't forgotten how to ride a bicycle.

back to top