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Earl Howard - Clepton

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Artist: Earl Howard

Album: Clepton

Label: New World

Review date: May. 8, 2008

Composer and synthesizer player Earl Howard’s discography is small but potent, and Clepton is another worthy addition. Comprising live recordings from 1989 and 2006, it provides yet another portal into Howard’s fascinating and constantly invigorating soundworld.

“Rosebud” makes a fine point of entry, as it’s the sparest in texture; the oldest of the three pieces on offer, it moans, soothes and shrieks its way through the extraordinary timbres Howard conjures up, and percussionist Gerry Hemingway integrates amazingly well. Somewhat similar to the Tom and Gerry discs that Hemingway and synthesist Thomas Lehn made for Erstwhile and Umbrella, both Howard and Hemingway approach sound with such an expansive and innovative spirit that it is often difficult to tell who is making which sounds.

Not so with the title track, a 38-minute epic that incorporates live processing. Here, Howard and Hemingway are joined by cellist Ernst Reijseger and pianist Georg Graewe, long-time members of a venerable trio with Hemingway. Howard juxtaposes the live trio sound with braps, swells, rustles and twitters from his vast timbral arsenal; there are passages of achingly beautiful drone and the occasional mellow triad from Graewe, but these are usually supplanted in short order by more percussive trio musings, Howard’s electricity pouring over it all in cascades of liquid glass. Textures are lush and sharp by turn, the live instrument sounds later transformed and multiplied. The stereo spectrum becomes Howard’s plaything, the size of the soundstage seeming to grow and shrink from moment to moment. Perhaps the most surprising element is the applause at the piece’s conclusion, so variable are the environments invoked throughout that the music seems more like a studio creation than a concert piece.

“Improvisation” is a study in polyrhythm; a single pulse initially unifies the instruments, but it rapidly expands, Hemingway’s work on marimba adding layers of intrigue to the ever-denser texture. Graewe and Reijseger’s post-tonal ruminations serve as the perfect backdrop to Howard’s interjections, the three approaches blending in a morphing mass of intertwining lines.

Howard is in touch with the potential of sound in a way exemplified by very few. As with the best experiments of Stockhausen and Boulez, there is nothing forced about his combination of electronic and acoustic media. I hope that Clepton will prove to be just another step in the trail Howard is blazing.

By Marc Medwin

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