Review: Violinist Christian Howes ‘American Spirit’

Crossing genres and decades, Howes weaves a patriotic tapestry
After a musical tour through Montenegro and Ukraine, jazz violinist Christian Howes returned—literally and figuratively—home. In American Spirit, Howes dismisses today’s fractured politics and conjures a nostalgic journey steeped in optimism. A mix of jazz, classical, blues, folk, and Americana blooms through Howes’ lyrical phrasing. The eclectic glance back, helped by bassist Ben Williams, drummer Gregory Hutchinson, pianist Josh Nelson, organist and pianist Hamilton Hardon, and vocalist Polly Gibbons, offers a warm, digestible patriotism.

At first, the ambitious breadth—culling from 150 years for eight standards amid three original pieces—may seem like an audacious task in summarizing American sentiment. But each rendition is true to the spirit of its source, speaking through jazz in refreshing ways. “America,” from the film West Side Story; “Angela,” the theme from the television show Taxi; and Joni Mitchell’s 1960s folk ballad “Both Sides, Now” illustrate the variety in Howes’ look back. Also included is Samuel Barber’s vivacious “Galop,” originally for two pianists. Howe assumes the melody with distinct effervescence.

Especially compelling are Howes’ compositions, which highlight his comfort in the space between classical and jazz. In the title track, sweeping vistas of the American frontier come to mind, and Howes’ Octave Geiger instrument adds meaty layers. In the last track, “Postlude,” a “jazz caprice,” Howes plays alone in a seemingly cavernous space, spinning into improvised jazz progressions. His brisk left hand meets satisfyingly robust bowing. The melody surges outward and upward—a fitting end for a hopeful album.



Christian Howes American Spirit

Christian Howes, American Spirit, (Resonance Records)