Noah Howard Noah Howard


Patterns – Message to South Africa

Release Date: 1st October 1971
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  1. Patterns – 36:24
  2. Message to South Africa – 18:26

About the album

Recording Patterns: Hilversum, Holland, October 1971
Recording  Message to South Africa: Paris, France, 1979
Label: Eremite – Eremite MTEO19

Recorded with

Han Bennink – drums/percussion/Tibetan horn
Steve Boston – congas
Earl Freeman – bass
Misha Mengelberg – piano
Jaap Schoonhoven – guitar

Message to South Africa:
Johnny Dyani – bass/vocals
Kali Fasteau – sheng/vocals
Chris McGregor – piano
Noel McGee – drums

Album Review

Noah Howard remains one of the great, under-appreciated saxophonists of free America. The tension-fraught brilliance of his alto playing during the1960s &1970s has an edge of palpable liberation that is both unquestionable & unmatched. A student of Sonny Simmons & Dewey Johnson, Mr. Howard’s success in transmuting thejoy-wedge of his instrument’s post-Ornette identity is well documented on sessions issued by the ESP, Freedom, & America labels. Later efforts show evidence of the kind of programmatic structuring that supplanted fire music’s evolutionary explosions. But such artistic realignments were characteristic of a general shift in the ground underlying the improvisational avant-garde during the 1970s; Mr. Howard was, and remains, capable of producing massive and mighty flux, as the two lost sessions combined here ably demonstrate.
Originally issued on his own Alt Sax label in 1971, the “Patterns” session is one of the great mystery spots in the Noah Howard canon. Mr. Howard was in Europe, subsequent to the American jazz diaspora of the 1960s. His Parisian-based group with Frank Wright, Muhammad Ali & Bobby Few was in merge process with Alan Silva to form the Center of the World Collective. When a Dutch radio broadcast beckoned, Mr. Howard connected with fellow expatriates, bassist Earl ‘Goggles’ Freeman (who the following year would appear on Noah’s Live at the Village Vanguard), & conga player Steve Boston. Enlisted for the rhythm section were Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg, then in the heat of their duo functionality as ICP, along with the guitarist Jeep Schoonhoven (Wally Tax, etc), who is blinding here. The resultant music was a thirty-eight minute spasm of creative thunder.

Parsing the segments of “Patterns” is something best left to the timid. It is a piece into which one is best advised to dive, head-first, fully-clothed & rigidly attentive. The blasted opening sequence, which we seem to enter whilst already in-process, is a space duet for conga & electric guitar unprecedented in the annals of jazz & new music. When the rest of the musicians enter there is a heavy attempt to Africanize Dutch architecture, a proposition which Mr. Mengelberg seems reluctant to accept. What eventually occurs is a primitivist aerial slugfest that invokes a world of shared experience, then negates its substantiality with hammers of nihilist beauty. Emblematic of the end of Europe’s open arms policy towards America’s expatriate improvisers, “Patterns” remains a ferocious, confounding ghost.

The ‘Message to South Africa’ session is another kind of spirit flare. Written in Paris the week that Steve Biko was killed, the date came together around two of the great South African jazz exiles, pianist Chris McGregor & bassist Johnny Dyani. Drummer Noel McGhee (who had played on Noah’s Live at the Swing Club date) was enlisted to give the band Caribbean representation. In Paris as well was Kali Fasteau, who lends the proceedings some of the same vibrational magic she had used so notably on Archie Shepp’s Bijou.

Mr. Howard is careful to note the creative insertions made by his fellow players. Mr. McGregor spliced in the chords to what was then the South African National Anthem, & Mr. Dyani improvised vocals and invocations in Zulu throughout the suite. The combination of free-ranging throats & small, repeated melodic figures gives the piece a feel very congruent to that which flowed from the pipe of free Africa. It is truly a slab of riveting “world music’ in the purest sense – cartwheeling through the changes like a shaman & surging up from a place beyond the reach of the western civ shuck. The project was done with the idea that Mercury might release it, but the heavy political vibe was too much for the company. Consequently, the track has never been released until now. Especially in the wake of Dyani’s and McGregor’s deaths, “Message to South Africa,” is a valuable addition to all five musicians too-scant discographies. It is also one of Mr. Howard’s most blues-wailing performances yet.

Heard together on this disc, these sessions make it clear that Noah Howard holds an important place in the fire music trajectory of late 20th centuryjazz. The time to hear him is now.
- Byron Coley, Deerfield MA 1999