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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Norman Howard - Burn Baby Burn

Here's a rare tape release from Norman Howard. A portion of these recordings has made it to CD (under the same title) on ESP-Disk' - go get it! Some titles are identical, but there are others here and some different versions (edits?), too.

Clifford has kindly allowed me to use his write-up - though it took me ages to finally get this up here... it's an honour to present a few more missing parts of the puzzle that is Norman Howard!

In November 1968 this quartet recorded nearly enough material for two records in a Cleveland studio session, some of which was sent to ESP but remained unreleased (though there is talk of Bernard Stollman's label revisiting the music on CD in the future [see link above! - ubu]), the remainder later issued as a limited-edition cassette by UK collector-musicologist Roy Morris (Signals, Homeboy Music 1, 1989). Both the ESP master and Signals were subsequently reissued together on the Burn, Baby, Burn cassette (Homeboy 2), a release that disappeared underground almost immediately. Rumor has it that Howard's technical abilities as a trumpeter kept his music from being issued at the time, but his conception as a soloist reveals much more. The fat smears of sound on Albert Ayler's "Spirits" prefigure his brother Donald's scattershot explosions and reference a school of brass playing uniquely suited to energy music and complementary to the fire of Ayler and post-Ayler saxophonists. And yet Howard's playing at slower tempi is disarmingly tentative, wrought with the wavering uncertainty of an Alan Shorter translated into a series of pointillistic stabs. With all the conviction voiced in a weighty, measured theme like "Soul Brother Genius", which opens Signals, it is a tense uncertainty that Howard produces in his startlingly brittle opening statements. Howard, Phillips and an arco Cliff voice the minor ghetto dirge over scattered percussive rolls, the composer's solo a series of persistently morbid and instantly shattered statements never more than a few bars in length. "Burn, Baby, Burn" is a manic, brief collective theme very much in the spirit of Ayler's "Bells," in which Howard's quick, blurred solo is followed by Phillips' first alto evisceration of the session (Arthur Jones clearly had precursors in Cleveland), a passionate yet carefully assembled paean to the wild leaps of Ayler and Eric Dolphy. The theme of "Haunted" returns to the measured delicacy of the opener, yet Cliff's perversely bent Silva-isms pull it apart into a psychoactive tone poem, mocking and goading Howard's trumpet. Phillips' huge vibrato follows, sticking close to the theme in a careful soliloquy before Cliff is given his own space to sonically upend the bass, after which Millsap edges in a rare unaccompanied bashing before the theme returns.
Norman Howard's compositions do have their limitations and cracks – there are only two tempi / moods as such, either excruciatingly slow pathos or inordinately fast, raw runs on very simple thematic elements. "Bug Out" introduces a few bars of singsong melody that merely open into a set of screaming solos from the participants (though Phillips's is especially strong), never quite holding the atmospheric weight of the dirges. The exploratory openness in pieces like "Haunted" and its uptempo analogue "Soul Resurrection" makes thematic simplicity an asset rather than a hindrance. Most of the ESP demo, false starts and voice-overs included, is made up of Phillips's compositions (though "Burn, Baby, Burn" does make an appearance):"Sound From There" offers a uniquely delicate pan-tempo ballad, unison alto-bass drones girding and then engaging Howard's glassy trumpet line, while "Satan's Holiday" is essentially "Bug Out" at a slower tempo."Sadness Holiday" also resembles other ballads in the set; though sadly marred by several false starts and voice-overs, the Hodges-like sweetness that characterizes Phillips's tone reveals his versatility as an improviser and his allegiance to his colleague Arthur Jones – also a player of searing intensity and warm delicacy.

~ Clifford Allen, from: Paris Transatlantic, Dec. 2005

Norman Howard
Burn, Baby, Burn

Norman Howard – trumpet
Joe Phillips – alto sax
Walter Cliff – bass
Corney Milsap – drums

10/68, Cleveland, OH

1. Soul Brother Genius
2. Burn Baby Burn
3. Haunted
4. Bug Out
5. Deep Black Mystery
6. Soul Resurrection
7. Divine Tiding
8. Sound from There
9. Satan's Village
10. Sadness Holiday (Sad Miss Holiday)
11. Time and Units
12. Burn, Baby, Burn

Homeboy Music 2 (includes tracks from Homeboy Music 1, Signals)


ubu said...

RS Link (M4A + info):

sasha said...

Yea I know this dude from that 'Witches And Devils' session of Ayler..And I really dug his playing on that recording (and wondered why I hadn't seen his name more from that era)..That is a one very interesting commentary above..I kinda got that the spontaenous energy music of the 60's required a particular approach from the brass player..Obviuosly D Cherry had his own very personal sound and conception..Guys like Norman Howard, Earl Cross (from 'Black Ark' Noah Howard) and D Ayler on the other hand had an almost biblical/acopolyptic approach (maybe taking their cue from Joshua and the walls of jericho!)to the brass..Then there are guys like B Dixon who seem somewhat apart from that particular approach..All fascinating stuff..I look forward to hearing this one..Many thanks for bringing this one forth.

ubu said...

alternate link:

onxidlib said...

Thank you, UBU!

I have the CD and I like the music a lot.
This is a real gift.

serviceton said...

Aha! From reading the commentary above(a mere 6 years old!) I now understand the differences between the 2 Homeboy cassettes - ie. that the 2nd contains the 1st in its entirety. Previously , I imagined 2 different sets of tracks.
I tip my hat to Roy Morris.
And to you ubu - many thanks!

ubu said...

I'm only the messenger here ;-)

serviceton said...

Yes Indeed the messenger - was trying to thank you ubu, not shoot you, nor venerate you. ;o)
Would it be inappropriate to mention the Homeboy site?

ubu said...

I know, I know!
Just trying to act as humbly as is appriate :-)

Thanks for the link - the Doyle looks mighty fine!