Saxophonist Richard Howell calls his protean jazz ensemble Sudden Changes, a moniker evoking its surging energy and quicksilver improvisational flights on the bandstand. But the name also suggests that Howell is starting a new career phase. While revered by his peers in jazz, blues and R&B, Howell has long been an under-the-radar force as a producer, arranger and educator; for more than a decade, he’s maintained higher visibility in Europe than here at home in the Bay Area.
That estimation could well end with Saturday's release of an arresting new Sudden Changes album, Burkina, and with a self-produced concert at Herbst Theatre.
“I’m at an age where I think it’s time to let people know what I’m doing,” says Howell from his home in Mill Valley. “This concert isn’t through Yoshi’s or SFJAZZ. It’s me doing what I do for other artists behind the scenes, and what I’m doing for myself.”
In many ways, Howell is a secret weapon of the Bay Area music scene, an artist who's provided the creative glue holding together an extraordinary range of projects. Last year he won an Izzie Award for his collaboration with choreographer Gregory Dawson in birds eye view at the Black Choreographers Festival. He's produced several albums by the Bay Area Afro-Brazilian ensemble Vivendo de Pão, as well as the award-winning jazz/spoken-word ensemble UpSurge! And he played an essential role as producer, arranger and soloist on two albums by the Mo’Rockin Project, which created a singular synthesis of jazz and R&B with traditional North African modes and instruments.
“He was the innovator and creative mind behind the ensemble,” says Berkeley-based, Casablanca-born oud master Yassir Chadly, who founded the Mo’Rockin Project with the late trumpeter Kahlil Shaheed. “We’d bring the melodies and he’d create the beautiful arrangements.”