Markus Howell

Get Right!

Michigan State University’s jazz program enjoys a reputation for turning out impressive talent. And young alto saxophonist Markus Howell might be its 2019 breakout ambassador. An alumnus of MSU’s undergraduate and graduate programs, the young artist has released a strong, swinging debut featuring seven vibrant originals and three not-so-typical covers. In addition, Howell was heard earlier this year on One-Track Mind as co-leader of the Becoming Quintet.

From the downbeat on his own disc, Howell makes a big personal statement, kicking into a cadenza steeped in hard-bop and subtly tinged with r&b. Segueing into the title track, the band lays down a sassy shuffle, setting the good-time tone. As a composer, Howell favors catchy, rhythmic melodies and tight, well-balanced structure, and he’s patient when building solos, yet not afraid to get edgy, as on the Latin-infused, “Inner Being.”

Pianist Art Hirahara’s soloing is consistently invigorating throughout, while Luther Allison’s drumming drives energized scorchers like “Warfare” with crisp, swinging chops. (Impressively, Allison serves as pianist with the Becoming Quintet.) But beyond great schooling, Howell’s debut conveys individuality and the confidence of a promising leader.