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My Shining Hour by Howard Alden

My Shining Hour is the latest in a growing string of CD’s that Howard Alden has released on Concord. This time, though, he records alone, without rhythmic accompaniment, without horns and without a duo guitarist.

The most famous of those duos includes Alden’s album with the guitarist’s guitarist, George Van Eps, who late in life achieved the public recognition he deserved throughout his career, particularly for his creation of the 7-string archtop guitar adapted from one of his Epiphones. Lately, luthier Bob Benedetto has taken up the cause of the 7-string guitar, creating his own line. And Van Eps’ tinkering with the possibilities of the sound of the acoustic guitar has led to a whole cadre of contemporary guitarists who have continued to master the instrument: Jimmy Bruno, Ron Escehete, Lenny Breau, Van Moretti, John Pizzarelli and most especially Bucky Pizzarelli. And Howard Alden.

The effectiveness of My Shining Hour, which Alden records at his own pace to explore the inner richness of the instrument, relies to a great extent on his guitar’s fullness of sound. From the opening chords of "My Shining Hour," the breadth of the instrument’s range becomes evident, primarily because Alden deepens it with that seventh lower string. Moving into a faster interpretation of "My Shining Hour," he forsakes the lower tones of his guitar as he alternates the upper-range improvisation with the chords that contrast harmonic density with melodic lightness.

Even though some of the other guitarists use the seventh string to create a walking bass effect, Alden, for the most part, employs its potential for rooting the improvisations. The way he ends "Gone With The Wind," by using the lower note as the basis for its final arpeggios, adds a level of beauty that would have been missing from a 6-string performance. After that conclusion, Alden moves into a rubato treatment of Mal Waldron’s "Soul Eyes" that continues to paint from the same palette or rich colors, both dark and bright.

Alden was the guitarist giving musical life to Sean Penn’s synchronized strumming in Woody Allen’s character study and tribute to the jazz life, Sweet And Lowdown. The impression that the movie-goer got of Sweet And Lowdown’s music was that of barely contained wildness, even as the excellence of the music received its due. In fact, the music was the reason for the movie. Yet, in spite of the plenitude of memorable music that Alden and Bucky Pizzarelli played on the movie’s sound track, some of musical director Dick Hyman’s compositions remained on the cutting room floor. In its first public performance, Alden includes on the CD two of those may-not-have-been-heard-otherwise tunes, "Sweet Substitute" and "Unfaithful Woman," albeit short and sweet.

The remainder of My Shining Hour includes music that has personal significance to Alden.... or merely that he enjoys playing. "The Girl From Ipanema" unexpectedly is played at a faster-than-usual tempo, avoiding the repetitive approach of sensuality that’s heard so often that it has lost originality.

Enthusiasts of fine guitar playing no doubt will enjoy My Shining Hour for its celebration of the instrument’s sound, resonant and singing, in the hands of one of most highly respected practitioners on the scene today.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Howard Alden
  • CD Title: My Shining Hour
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2002
  • Record Label: Concord
  • Tracks: My Shining Hour, All Too Soon, Sweet Substitute, Unfaithful Woman, E Is For Emment, Blood Count, I Wrote It For Jo, Girl From Ipanema, Isn’t It A Pity?, Gone With The Wind, Soul Eyes, Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), Crazy She Calls Me
  • Musicians: Howard Alden (guitar)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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