Certainly no unknown commodity as up-and-coming jazz artists go, the "Jazz Paganini," violinist Christian Howes, explodes in this most entertaining and refreshingly personal performance captured on DVD in a relaxed, informal setting in what appears to be a small Madrid restaurant/supper club. The set features great technique and style not only by Howes but by his very sharp accompaniment, the Horacio Icasto Quartet, comprised of pianist/leader Horacio Icasto, bassist Victor Merlo, Santiago Reyes on guitar, and Noah Shaye handling the drum action. The setting is so casual that the cameraman seems to purposely zero in, for effect, on the glass of half-consumed beer and the thick, swirling smoke of a lit cigarette in the ashtray right next to Icasto.
Howes presents material that showcases his skill in a distinctive and definitive fashion. He performs a variety of tunes ranging from straight-ahead jazz to avant garde to straight blues. Whether playing up-tempo swing or bluesin’ it up, the fluidity and almost overwhelming scale mastery by the entire ensemble is quite becoming. One has to wonder just what was left behind in the practice sessions, where expression was probably flowing even more freely before someone had to finally rein it in, simply because it all wouldn’t fit in one live set.
Many selections here are among my favs. There are "moments" that stood out for me, although the entire set was more than noteworthy. For example, Icasto’s masterful concerto-style work on "Adios Nonino" is something to behold, as are Reyes’s fluid and effortless blues riffs. Speaking of riffs, Howes’s electric violin packs as much heat as any of the rock/blues guitarists over the past decade could muster. In fact, all of his violin work here is pretty fiery. There’s also the bluesy/R&Bish tribute called "Song For My Daughter," the catchy cover of "I’ve Got Rhythm," a nod to thick & gritty blues on "Madrid Blues," and the multidirectional finale, "Conejiltram." Really expressive stuff played at a superb level of expertise.