Greg Howard Band

Espresso Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If you've never heard of the Chapman Stick, you've missed out on something special in the world of music. A unique-looking item, you press on the strings instead of plucking them, allowing you to play the instrument like a piano instead of a guitar. The Stick allows you two-handed access, meaning you can play treble and bass lines at the same time. Tony Levin is one of the best-known performers who uses the Stick; I've seen John Myung of Dream Theater play one in concert. I've even had the chance to try one out myself, though I admit I looked at the instrument like a monkey trying to do a math problem.

Greg Howard is called one of the instrument's best players, and has several albums' worth of Stick-related music out. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Lift, the latest from the Greg Howard Band, has a few moments of greatness, but otherwise comes off sounding like Dave Matthews Band trying to play smooth jazz.

Admittedly, the sound of this group is one you have to get used to; the "guitar player" you think you hear is actually Howard on the Stick. Yet Howard isn't the person who remains in the spotlight throughout this disc; his bandmates - drummer/percussionist Jan Wolfkamp, saxophonist/violinist Hubert Heeringa, and bassist Jan van Olffen - take their time in front of the band, as does guest saxophonist Louis Gerrits.

This might actually be the problem with Lift. It's not that these musicians aren't talented; rather, it's that the Stick becomes part of the rhythmic backbone, not the centerpiece of the disc as I would have expected. Add into this mix a strange eclectic mix of jazz and pseudo new-age, and the resulting disc is less than satisfying.

Oh, it isn't that the band doesn't try. But songs like "Dissent," "Still Water" and 'Cross Country" lack any real spark that would make the listener feel as if they were a part of something special. Instead, the performances sound rote, and the result is a tad boring.

Not all of the music on Lift falls into this trap. The disc's closer, "Experimental Sunrise," sounds as if it's three songs welded together - and it's an effect that works well, the tempo and stylistic changes becoming like a breath of fresh air when the listener needs it most. The album wouldn't have worked if all the songs were like this, but this particular example works well. Some of the shorter songs, like "Restless" and "Nord," also seem to sound revitalized, as if the band was trying to make their statement in an abbreviated length of time.

Lift could have been a great CD, with more controlled songwriting and more of an emphasis on the Stick. As it is now, it's a bit listless and droning, with flashes of clarity that show the listener what this disc could have been. If only Lift didn't come crashing down to earth as it has.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Espresso Records, and is used for informational purposes only.