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January/February 2003

Howard Alden
My Shining Hour
Concord Records

It was Howard Alden, one of the finest players around, doing the real playing behind Sean Penn's character in the 1999 Woody Allen film Sweet and Lowdown. While most of the material on My Shining Hour (Concord), Alden's latest CD, doesn't have anything to do with the movie, it does include two tracks-written by Allen's musical director, pianist Dick Hyman-that didn't make the film's final cut. Throughout, Alden goes it alone on either seven-string acoustic or electric, demonstrating he's as strong a soloist as he is an ensemble player.

Stylistically, Alden remains well within the tradition of mainstream jazz guitar, for the most part focusing on standards and-at least in an unaccompanied solo sense-coming up with an approach that sometimes seems like a cross between Joe Pass and George Van Eps, albeit one that is a bit more linear due to the fact that he uses a pick instead of his fingers to sound the strings. Tunes like "E Is for Emmett" (one of the unheard numbers from Sweet and Lowdown) and "I Wrote It for Jo" (written by Van Eps in the '40s) reflect Alden's affinity for music of a bygone era and display his remarkable technique. A bit more modern are performances of "My Shining Hour" and "Chega de Saudade," which give him a chance to display his ability to spontaneously meld seamless chord sequences with long, virtuosic single-note lines.

Perfectionists should be aware that this is pretty much a "live" studio recording with occasional audible performance glitches and breathing. Nevertheless, those flaws do little to detract from Alden's overall brilliant work.

Originally published in January/February 2003
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