Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., Dec. 1, 2017
Despite a 25-year career and consistent work with Church on Monday, the Jon Klekman Quartet, and the Mario Castellanos Trio, Storybook is jazz guitarist Tommy Howard's first album under his own name. Supported by the effortlessly swinging rhythm section of bassist Daniel Durham and drummer Brandon Guerra, the Austin axeman combines a dedicated melodic sensibility with prodigious chops. Comfortable with the ECM atmospheres of "In Paris in Love" and earthy blues of "Muffintop," Howard's wheelhouse is the after-hours club of the bebop era, where musicians simultaneously relaxed and stretched. The guitarist zips across the fretboard with impeccable technique and absolute precision, sounding at ease whether he's improvising or comping behind a Durham bass solo. Jumping from the finger-popping swing of "Tune for Lex" to the Latin-tinged blaze of "Tragic Magic" and the sensual seduction of "The Ritual," Howard sounds unleashed but never unhinged, always sticking close to the melody. He doesn't let technique dominate the music, however. He uses his guitar as a channel, not a weapon, infusing the tracks with heart and soul through his fretboard. Always impressive but never flashy, Storybook shows off its bandleader's skills as player and composer without self-indulgence.