Earl Howard’s Clepton (2006) is as complex, mysterious and poetic as the outer limits of science he finds inspiration in, and the imagery of particle physics is particularly appropriate for the extraordinary interaction that takes place between the composer and his three playing partners throughout Clepton’s 38 minutes. For Gerry Hemingway, “these are models that might be referenced to help us focus our approach to a given section—a basic understanding of scientific principles and concepts is useful as they often have terminology that better articulates the intent of a player’s actions rather than, say, feelings which are more vague and open to interpretation.”
Rosebud, a Howard/Hemingway duo recorded during a tour of upstate New York back in 1989, is as fresh and challenging as if it had been recorded yesterday. What’s particularly remarkable is the range of color and timbral sophistication of Howard’s electronics. Milton Babbitt’s famous line about nothing growing old faster than a new sound certainly applies to the world of electronic keyboards; tune in to your local Top 40 station and if you hear a mellotron, an ARP Odyssey, a Yamaha DX7 or a Korg M1 you have a pretty clear idea as to when the song was recorded. Very few musicians have taken the time to explore these instruments in depth and go beyond the standard patches that soon sound dated, even clichéd. Sun Ra was one, Thomas Lehn is another, and you can add Earl Howard’s name to the short list. The sounds he conjures forth from his DX7, a Lexicon PCM 70 and what today would be considered a relatively primitive Akai sampler are extraordinarily subtle, and haven’t aged in the slightest.