I'm an indie rock guy. My experience with jazz doesn't go much deeper than dabbling. But when a world-renowned jazz musician sets up shop in your city, especially a returning native son, it would be foolish to ignore him.
So, after a few months of actin' foolish, I finally made my way to Dick's Den last Wednesday to witness Christian Howes Trio's weekly residency.
Howes, a classically trained jazz violinist and an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music, is hailed as one of the world's most exciting talents on his instrument. He grew up in Columbus but spent the past eight years in Brooklyn, where he maintains an apartment and often stops in to play a string of gigs. Dude also frequently tours across Asia, Europe and North America.
As of late last year, he's spending most of his time back in Columbus, where he teams with some of the city's top jazz talent every Wednesday at Dick's. When I saw him last week, he was joined by Hamilton Hardin on keyboards and Cedrick Easton on drums.
This would be my second go-round with Howes. I first heard about him when he was in town last summer for his Creative Strings Workshop, an exclusive annual summer camp for imaginative players. I caught a set at Rumba Cafe during that event and remember being impressed with Howes' skill with his instrument, but last week's performance at Dick's helped me develop a fuller appreciation of what he brings to the table.
Allow me to praise him with some flowery prose:
Yes, the man can shred the violin. He perched it under his chin and wailed away, then turned it sideways and strummed it like a guitar. At times, Howes had his instrument sounding like a fuzzed-out Telecaster; other moments conjured ancient folk and classical sounds pulsating with whimsy. There were tightly wound rave-ups, naked solo spotlights and free-form slow burns.
It all sounded like jazz, but not in the stuffy, academic sense. For a few fleeting moments, the billowing solos and extended sixth and seventh chords came off a little too smooth and elevator-ready. More often, though, Howes was inventive and playful, understanding that a reverence for his genre means diving deep into free-spirited ingenuity.
Besides Howes' sheer talent, two things about the show impressed me. The first was his ability to shift between instruments - he rocked a guitar and a bass at times - and how he used the various tools to provide colorful background sounds and allow his bandmates to shine.
The second is his professed dedication to making this music accessible for somebody like me who doesn't have much background with the genre. I've been to enough jazz nights to know that it's easy enough to approach, but there was something highly engaging about the way Howes and company went about their craft, as though it wasn't their chance to musically wank out so much as to welcome listeners into their world. I look forward to a return visit.