Noah Howard: The Black Ark

Domiabra - 10.32
Ole Negro - 08.49
Mount Fuji - 15.31
Queen Anne - 13.24

Noah Howard: The Black Ark

New Orleans native Noah Howard was born in 1943 and had early exposure to Dixieland and gospel, initially playing trumpet in church as a child and playing the instrument while in military service. After switching to alto saxophone, he focused on the emerging avant garde jazz scene, with his major influence being its unofficial leader, Ornette Coleman. Before moving to New York City, he studied with both Dewey Redman and Sonny Simmons. Howard served as a sideman with Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler and Pharoah Sanders before starting his own band, which frequently included tenor saxophonist Frank Wright. By the 1970s, Howard had moved to Europe, feeling that his contributions were not appreciated in his homeland. Although he continued to return to the United States sporadically, his home base remained in Europe, where he died in 2010.

This 1969 session was initially issued on LP by Freedom in 1972, featuring the alto saxophonist in a band with tenor saxophonist Arthur Doyle, trumpeter Earl Cross, pianist Leslie Waldron, bassist Norris Jones (who also went by the name Sirone), drummer Mohammed Ali and Junga Sultan on congas. All four compositions are by Howard, though the introductory themes are quickly discarded. Kicking the session off with his furious “Domiabra,” a pulsating alchemy of shrieking horns, dark, distorted piano, fueled by the free rhythms of the percussion. “Ole Negro” begins as a loping, shuffling theme with a Latin undercurrent, with Howard’s emotional, pointed alto sax quickly taking center stage as the piece evolves into a free jazz firestorm, though Cross’ and Waldron provide a bit of focus during their brief solos. The theme of “Mount Fuji” has an Oriental flavor, suggesting a ceremonial march, though like the earlier songs, it is abandoned quickly as the horns and rhythm section interweave independent lines, with Cross’ darting trumpet and Waldron’s turbocharged piano providing a relatively calm eye in the midst of the musical hurricane, before all stops as Jones takes over the spotlight. In the finale, “Queen Anne,” Howard briefly recalls Eric Dolphy’s volcano outbursts on alto sax before returning to a mournful theme as the piece blends a mystical air with avant-garde fire.


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