One thing you can say about guitar virtuoso Greg Howe is he doesn't always take himself seriously. His recent release, Sound Proof, sports a cover of him in the act of trashing a guitar and a speaker. The back also boasts an image of him sitting with a pair of earphones on, screaming as if the sound is way too much. Also, the CD begins and ends and is sprinkled throughout with sound bytes that are absolutely the funniest things I've ever heard about the industry. "Connoisseur Part 1" and "Connoisseur Part 2" is an echo of musicians I've met myself who are so into "stuff" that they miss the music that's there. And the agent's response in "Write Me A Song" is humorously reminiscent of even music journalists I know who don't get a lot of instrumental music.
That said, Greg Howe has produced an interesting album with a lot of ear candy for jazz and rock enthusiasts. The work is multi-layered and intense but shows restraint. My favorite cut from the ten actual music tracks is "Sunset in El Passo" that even more than four minutes long is over all too soon. It is a tasty little cool jazz guitar tune that speaks loudly without the accompanying volume.
The album begins with "Emergency Exit," a signature metal meets jazz track that Howe is know for. But "Tell Me Something Good" follows with its marked whimsy and upbeat notes. Howe slips into a Brazilian jazz flavor in "Reunion" with intricate piano work and polyrhythms of the drums that would make Brubeck smile. "Morning View" offers a more rock feel while "Child's Play" digs deep into a jammy rock groove. Surprisingly, the title tune, "Sound Proof" is the last music cut on the album. It is a strong jazz rock cut with innovation and flair.
Howe delivers something quite unusual with "Walkie Talkie," a cut in the middle of the album. He begins with someone spinning a radio dial then he maneuvers through a variety of genres as if someone were tuning in different stations. It begins with rock with a metal feel, moves into jazz, then dips into funking jam and space music, finds its way back to hard rock, and ends on a cool jazz note. Some listeners might not be aware of all of these changes because they are relatively seamless. However, some of them are cued by dial spinning, but not all.
Through all of this, Howe shines but he also is generous with his fellow musicians. Jon Reshard cranks out the solid bass needed to keep this musical train on track. David Cook on keyboards is outstanding, and only a talented drummer like Gianluca Palmieri could ever add the touches that keep this album from being just a vehicle for Howe's ego. The mutual work among these four musicians is intense and the result of either extensive rehearsal or just plain musical intuition. I'd rather guess it is more the latter. The immediacy of this work could not be rehearsed.
If you don't know Greg Howe and his work, baptize yourself with this album. You'll come away feeling so good.