Christian Howes is not a fiddle player; he is a jazz violinist who is recognized as one of the best in the world. He incorporates classical elements into his music, which forms a unique fusion sound that branches out in a number of directions.
His new album American Spirit has a distinctly American theme that combines three originals and eight classic covers within a jazz format. Nothing is more American than jazz music and while his approach may be detached from the norm, it nevertheless fulfills the intent of his theme.
He is backed by a tight band of musicians including keyboardists Josh Nelson and Hamilton Hardin, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, plus vocalist Polly Gibbons on two tracks.
The opening tune sets the tone for what will follow. The song’s is unrecognizable until a couple of minutes in when they return to the well-known melody of “America” from West Side Story. Joni Mitchell’s folksy “Both Sides Now” is given a hard edge led by some violin re-verb, which takes the place of a guitar. “Shenandoah” is given a modern-day edgy performance completed by Gibbons vocal. Fats Waller’s “T’Ain’t Nobody’s Bizness” returns Howes to his gospel roots.
The best two tracks are the closest to pure jazz. “Galop” is a Samuel Barber composition. A frenetic piano forms the foundation for Howes violin improvisations to float above the mix. The album closer, appropriately titled “Postlude” is a solo violin piece in which he explores various themes from a jazz perspective. It is a performance that is creative and unique and there are few violinists that could re-create it.
Christian Howes is a niche superstar. If you are a fan of the violin and jazz, then American Spirit an album for you.