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"Joseph Howell is the most original and prominent new clarinetist to emerge during the past decade" ( Scott Yanow — Downbeat, Jazz Times, All Music Guide).

Monday's gig at the Turquoise Cafe Bar Europa didn't begin auspiciously for the Joseph Howell Jazz Quartet.

Howell and company arrived early to set up for a 6:30 start, only to find that the establishment was closed. Apparently there was some miscommunication--which eventually got solved.

The doors were opened, the band set up and Howell counted off the first tune, "San Diegans" at about 7:30.

Such are the slings and arrows that jazz musicians often endure.

Howell's got loads of credentials, including three degrees in music from CSU Northridge, San Diego State and the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music.

He studied reeds with Jerry Bergonzi, Don Byron and George Garzone, all legendary musician / educators on the East Coast.

He's trying to get established on the San Diego jazz scene, something that's sure to happen as soon as enough people hear him play.

Howell has put together a working band comprised of some very talented local musicians.

Chief among them is the remarkable bassist Harley Magsino who plays with a thick, full sound and a "stutter-step" walk that reminds me of the late great Jimmy Garrison.

On keyboards was Kris Korsgaden, a terrific young pianist who was unfortunately, on this night, restrained by a pretty weak sounding instrument. It would be much more satisfying to hear him on the acoustic piano, even an upright.

Isaac Crow completed the ensemble on drums--another young cat to watch for.

Most of the music Howell selected would have fit comfortably on a Blue Note release from the mid-sixties, sort of straddling the divide between the absolute mainstream and more adventurous stuff.

Howell chose a program of all original material, and while it would have been nice to throw in a few standards or modern classics from the books of Parker, 'Trane or Mingus, the originals served the clarinetist well as improvisational vehicles for his astonishing technical abilities.

Whatever style he is playing, Howell has a seemingly endless fountain of ideas flowing out of his horn. The highlight moments, for me, were when he chose to incorporate "extended-techniques" like multiphonics into his soloing, although that's a tactic that can backfire for an audience of casual listeners.

Korsgarden has listened to a lot of McCoy Tyner, and that influence was obvious on several excellent solos that night, especially in his use of cascading right-hand runs--often at blurring speed.

Violist Karen Hopkins sat in on several pieces, and the blend of her dark strings with the clarinet was sublime.

The sound in the Turquoise Cafe was actually quite nice, all of the instruments projected well, which makes it an excellent spot to hear local music.

If you think that the clarinet is somehow square, (it's not the most popular jazz instrument), check out Joseph Howell--he's got the goods.


Pictured: Joseph Howell photo courtesy of Joseph Howell

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