Wicked was the first thing that came to mind when I first heard the title song to Greg Howe’s new CD, Extraction
Not in an evil way, but wicked in the sense that it captured my attention from the first note to the last. And the album maintains that level pretty much from start to finish.
A formidable player who joined the ranks of celebrated rock guitar shredders in the late 1980s with his incendiary, self-titled debut on Mike Varney’s Shrapnel Records, Howe has spent the past decade making more determined strides into the fusion camp.
The new album, released in October, is evidence that Howe has arrived.In addition to his solo efforts, Howe has performed as a sideman for a number of pop superstars, filling in for guitarist Jennifer Batten in 1996 on Michael Jackson’s "History" tour through Europe and Asia, touring the United States and Europe in 2000 with Enrique Iglesias, making two tours of the United States in 2001 and 2002 with N-Sync and doing a promotional tour this year with Justin Timberlake. Howe ultimately left the latter tour in order to complete Extraction
The album is an intense, smoking collection of outstanding originals and one notable cover tune. It’s an exciting sound that, while progressive and modern, is a throwback to the 1970s when musicians had an adventurous spirit, mixing jazz with rock, funk and soul to create fusion.
Howe is backed by drummer Dennis Chambers (formerly with P-Funk, John Scofield, the Brecker Brothers and currently with Santana) and electric bassist Victor Wooten (of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), who contributed to this summer’s tribute: Jaco Pastorius Big Band Word of Mouth Revisited
covers its fusion bases quite well, blending the improvisational textures of jazz with some sizzling rock guitar riffs and funk-inspired bass and drum rhythms. Comparisons to Frank Gambale, Allan Holdsworth and Scott Henderson are inevitable.
Howe, Chambers and Wooten form a jazz trio of a different kind. Keyboardist Dave Cook joins the party on a few tracks, including the jazz-rock-funk piece, "Tease."
Whether it leans toward rock, funk or something in between, the ensemble’s sensational sense of timing - blazing tempos, difficult unison lines in the leads or stretching out on solos - never lets the listener forget this is jazz. That dexterity is evident on "Crack It Way Open" - perhaps more so than on any other track.
The virtuosity continues with the Latin-flavored "Contigo" and the lyrical closer, "Birds Eye View." Throughout, Howe unleashes with mind-boggling expertise on the fretboard, often engaging in hair-raising exchanges, daredevil unison lines at blistering tempos and challenging stop-time statements.
The sole cover tune is the Alan Pasqua composition, "Proto Cosmos," a stellar outing that brings to mind some of the 1970s work by Chick Corea and Eumir Deodato.Extraction
isn’t for the faint of heart - or those who believe smooth is all there is to contemporary jazz.
It is, however, for those who enjoy music that’s creative, passionate and just darned good.