Drummer, composer and bandleader Ollie Howell, a rising star in the UK, is taking a step on the path to international prominence with a three-month engagement at Quincy Jones's intimate new venue, Q's Bar and Lounge, in the unlikely setting of the über-luxurious Palazzo Versace hotel in Dubai.
Leading a quartet of fellow young London-based musicians, Howell is presenting three sets of music a night from Monday to Friday until mid-February, mixing tracks from his well-received 2013 debut album, Sutures and Stitches, from the follow-up Self Identity, to be released in March on the US Ropeadope label, as well as tunes from the jazz tradition. The personnel is changing through the residency, each switch in lineup contributing its own twist to the stage chemistry.
For the press opening on 8 December he was flanked by Duncan Eagles on tenor sax and Max Luthert on double bass, both long-term accomplices, and pianist Tom Millar. Earlier in the week, with Eagles and Luthert on tour in Germany, saxophonist Alam Nathoo and bassist Daniel Casimir took their places, Casimir playing the electric bass for the first time in months when the bridge of his double bass collapsed at the worst possible time – just before what was in effect a private gig for Quincy Jones (pictured below). Casimir rose to the challenge with flying colours, and will be returning to the lineup in January.
Howell's notably clean drumming drew a succession of stunning performances from his sidemen through the opening week, their poise and confidence well suited to the sophisticated setting. His melodic gifts as a composer shone through in such numbers as 'Balancing Stones', which builds towards a fine crescendo, and 'Almost Tomorrow', a lilting late-night melody played as a trio, with a plangent opening section, Howell on brushes and Luthert's warm bass providing the perfect backdrop to Millar's beautifully articulated piano lines. Among the standards, standout tunes included Howell's arrangement of the traditional Swedish folksong 'Dear Old Stockholm', while a moving intro from Eagles launched a rendition of 'I Remember Clifford', Benny Golson's tribute to a lost friend. Sam Rivers' 'Beatrice' also impressed.
At the press night, Swedish pop fusion band Dirty Loops put on a loud show, which left the audience's ears ringing for Howell's final set. So the quartet dropped their slower tunes and turned up the tempo and volume to great effect with a driving version of 'Polka Dots and Moonbeams', a ballad transformed in trumpeter Philip Dizack's punchy arrangement. Then came Millar's percussive composition 'Rain in Rio', an audience favourite all week, leading up to a finale of Sonny Rollins's 'Oléo', Luthert's fingers racing up and down his bass in an exciting exchange of solos with Eagles.
Howell has an increasingly busy schedule, including a major orchestral commission and film and TV compositions on top of the new album, so it is unlikely that UK audiences will catch his quartet in such an intimate club setting next year. Lucky Dubai.
– Bruce Millar
– Photos courtesy www.dubainight.com