LIVE in Japan – Joseph Howell Quartet

LIVE in Japan – Joseph Howell Quartet

Label: Summit Records

Release date: Feb 2021

Catalog number: 776


comp: Joe Henderson
Good Bait
comp: Tadd Dameron, Count Basie
comp: Wayne Shorter
comp: Joe Henderson
comp: Joe Henderson
My Foolish Heart
comp: Victor Young, Ned Washington
Take the "A" Train
comp: Billy Strayhorn

Joseph Howell – clarinet
Keigo Hirakawa – piano
Kenji Shimada – bass
Kenichi Nishio – drums

Recorded Live – May 27, 2018 at Jazz Live House CASK. Yokohama, Japan

In a world full of musicians, it remains a rare instance when multiple players come together and find they are perfectly suited to each other. The group on this recording feels more like a family than a band. All of the players support and enjoy each other’s playing and company.



The music on this album was recorded back in May of 2018, without the aim of an official release, but rather as a way for the musicians to remember and revisit their time together. But fortunately for us, drummer Kenichi Nishio decided to have friends professionally mix the recording, which led to this release. The group is made up of Joseph Howell on clarinet, Keigo Hirakawa on piano, Kenji Shimada on bass, and Kenichi Nishio on drums. They open the album with a delightful rendition of Joe Henderson’s “Serenity,” with Keigo Hirakawa shining right away on piano. His lead both flows and hops, over that great, loose groove, and it seems he could carry on like this forever. But eventually he gives way to a lead by Joseph Howell on clarinet, which has a wonderfully playful quality, like a sprite or some other fanciful creature dancing in bright sunlight. The track then mellows a bit as Kenji Shimada begins his lead on bass. But there is a great cheer to his playing, which keeps the energy moving. “Serenity” is the first of three Joe Henderson compositions on the album. The other two are “Jinrikisha” and “Mamacita,” both from fairly early in the saxophonist’s career. “Jinrikisha,” in fact, is from his debut LP, Page One. The version here features some excellent work on piano, which moves with a wonderful sense of freedom. And then Joseph Howell’s lead ends up soaring and flying. “Mamacita” is an inherently fun number, and these guys do a great job with it, Kenji Shimada getting it going on bass. They get into the spirit of the music, cutting loose, and I particularly like Kenichi Nishio’s work on drums. This track has something of a playful ending. This group also delivers a version of Tadd Dameron and Count Basie’s “Good Bait” that should have you smiling before too long. The joy these musicians take in their craft is obvious. They wrap up the album with a tender, gentle, beautiful rendition of “My Foolish Heart” and a cool version of “Take The A Train” on which each of the musicians really shines. This album was released on February 11, 2021.

-Michael Doherty’s Music Log



A trio of Japan’s young locals team up with the ace clarinetist for a program of Miles and Duke where they all play it like to the manner born. Eclectic and energetic, this date is loaded with verve and swing and actually takes you to some new places on this tasty journey thorough the past. Solid work well navigated by the ex-navy man in the lead.

-Chris Spector for Midwest Record



Joseph Howell successfully brings an instrument usually associated with swing into the modern era. His clarinet has a tone similar to Buddy DeFranco, but his heart beats to the post bop tones of  Shorter and Joe Henderson on this fun set with Keigo Hirakawa/p, Kenji Shimada/b and Kenichi Nishio/dr. Oh, he’ll take on “Take the ‘A’ Train”, but he swings it like it’s on the end of a rope, swirling around like an Olympic discus thrower. He shows his grace along with Kirakawa on a pretty read of “My Foolish Heart” and sails with the wind to his back with a p ulse provided by Shimada and Nishio on “Good Bait”. A take of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti” builds up the relentless pace to a bold climax, and Henderson pieces such as “Serenity” and “Mamacita” have Hirakawa in a McCoy Tyner mood and Howell delivering some tasty excursions of modal directions. All of the songs range between 8-13+ minutes as it is a “live” performance, so everyone gets a chance to stretch out a bit, but they never cause one to tune out on the tunes. A tasty licorice stick.

-George Harris for Jazz Weekly