Alfred Howard and the K23
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Alfred Howard and the K23

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"Rose Monster"

Al Howard :: 04.29 :: San Diego
They say art imitates life... or is it the other way around? In the case of virtuoso poet Alfred Howard, it's both. As a man who has dedicated his life to art and his art to life quite deliberately, he's making a name for himself as a world-wise poet trying to make a difference through his words. After finishing as a student at Boston College, Al became a student of the world, embarking on a cross-country vision quest. As he meandered the highways of North America, so too did his mind meander, both inwardly and outwardly, culminating in the self-realization that music would be his life's work. The fact that he did not consider himself at all musically inclined would serve only as a minor obstacle. When determination sets into a strong mind, such technicalities carry little weight.

On this cross-country adventure, young Alfred started keeping a journal of his thoughts, questions, concerns, quandaries and perplexities. As the precious book evolved, it began taking on more rhyme and meter, while the awe and inspiration of his favorite musicians grew around it. He credits that journey as being a major musical catalyst in his life: "That road trip was huge," he says. "The first year performing with this band, almost all the songs had come from [it]. I think that's the ideal time to do it," he continues, "because you have so much surfacing in your head and so much generally unsettled. What better time to go out and explore, and kind of live your way into some of these questions that you're asking?"

Al Howard :: 04.29 :: Winston's :: San Diego
One of the questions he was asking himself involved seeking the path that would lead him into the realms of his idols - countless great musicians from all times and lands. "Since I was 13," begins Al, "music's been my life. I reached this point where it was no longer satisfying to just be a passive observer, and I knew that I had to do something involving music. [My ability with] instruments never really developed in any way, so I started writing. It felt natural, so I put all my time into that, to keep evolving it." And evolve it did. All he had needed was a starting point, and all the unspoken thoughts rushed to the surface. "After 21 years of being fascinated with music, and [with] what's going on in the world surfacing every day, and I've always been really into nature. Having never expressed any of these ideas before, it just kind of came pouring out." Over the next two years, Alfred Howard crafted his poeticisms and began performing as a spoken-word artist. But it didn't take long before he was seeking musicians and making the jump of his dreams.

Al Howard & the K23 Orchestra :: 04.29 :: San Diego
After meeting and connecting with guitarist Travis Daudert, the two started putting together a full band, and shortly thereafter, the K23 Orchestra was born. The growth rate has been rapid, and the personnel solid, right from the start, undergoing only minor changes. Drummer Steve Craft, and percussionist Aaron Irwin, along with bassist Matt Lebarber, lay the rhythmic foundation for Daudert's guitar, and Josh Rice's keys, alongside our man Al's rapid-fire lyrical delivery. It's a great group of experienced musicians with varied but strong backgrounds, and to them as individuals, it feels like it's all been leading up to this.

I've known Al for some time and have even had the distinct honor of DJing at several of his hometown San Diego shows. It's always nice, though, to don my "civies" and truly soak up what's going on in the room. On April 29th at Winston's in Ocean Beach - one of San Diego's premier live music venues - I did just that. I've been following K23 over the past few years as they've been diligently working to establish themselves both locally and regionally, which they have done with notable success. Working the festival scene always provides rising bands with opportunities for exposure outside their local markets, and these guys are no strangers to that. Reaching a point where the band has achieved a fair amount of recognition, the hometown shows take on a whole new meaning. In the comfort zone of Winston's, playing to a packed house of loyal fans, Al and his band were able to really cut loose and put on a phenomenal show that demonstrated the progress they've made over the past couple years.

Al Howard & the K23 Orchestra :: 04.29 :: Winston's
The music of the K23 Orchestra is based primarily on a foundation of funky, danceable grooves, keeping feet tapping and heads dipping consistently throughout the night. Occasionally, Al goes into an a cappella frenzy, but for the most part, the music is very beat-driven, the lyrics politically and socially charged, as these excerpts from "I'm Scott Craft ***** and this Ain't No ********" demonstrate:

I was out last night trying to translate a vision
There is only one physical life we've been given
Somehow we've forgotten to experience living
Shedding our humani -

"Hip Hop’s Jack Kerouac"

Hip Hop’s Jack Kerouac (Kynd Music Magazine)

By Dave Terpeny

Hip Hop, like all music genres, eventually reaches a stalemate when the revolutionary feel, the experimental nature, the breath of fresh air that it once represented goes stale. In America that happened to Hip Hop quite some time ago when the genre was overtaken by sex and violence clichés. Nowadays all Hip Hop that you hear in popular culture is the same. Maybe the giant dollar sign pendant is gold instead of platinum but that is the only separation that you see between artists who constantly recycle the same rhythms, themes and booty-shaking video models. Certainly there are the occasional MTV acts that break, slightly, out of the mold but they are both rare and timid in their approach.

Alfred Howard and the K23 Orchestra (AH&K23) are anything but timid. A “unique blend of hip hop, rock, Latin, spoken word and jazz fusion,” the band consists of six pieces including Josh Rice (keyboard,) Travis Daudert (guitar,) Jeremy Eikam (upright bass,) Steve Craft (drums,) Aaron Irwin (percussion,) and Alfred Howard (lyricist/vocals). In addition, they have won the San Diego Music Awards for Best Hip Hop Band (2003) and have shared the stage with Ozomatli, Soundtribe Sector 9, Robert Walter's 20th Congress, The Living Legends, The Beat Junkies, Mikah 9, John Brown’s Body, OMD, B-Side Players and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Lyricist/vocalist Alfred Howard has also sat in with Steve Kimock, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Umphree's McGee, Om Trio and ALO among others. He has performed at the 2003 Jane's Addiction New Years Show, has given readings at San Diego State University (SDSU) and University of California San Diego (UCSD) and has won the UCSD Poetry Slam.

And that’s not all. Al Howard (a New Jersey native) graduated from Boston College and embarked immediately and several times over on his own version of On the Road by Jack Kerouac (Penguin Books), crisscrossing the United States. He, of course, wrote a book about his experiences called the, Serpentine Highway (Altered States Press). The book is “a collection of poetry and observations from the perspective of a young African-American’s life on the road” and it became the inspiration for AH&K23’s debut album. In fact accompanying the book is AH&K23’s debut album of the same title.

Since then, they moved on to release Kudra (2003) and in the spring of 2004, two live CDs entitled Live at Lestat’s Volume One & Two. These two CDs are a tour de force of revolutionary thought, music and emotion.

Both CDs contain 11 tracks apiece and both are full of impressive jazz funk fusion chops, teeth aching world beat jams and rapid, thought-provoking spoken word rapping. Starting with Volume One, it is the mellower of the two CD’s with more of a jazz lounge feel to it, based I think on the songs and, it seems, the mood of the band as well on this evening. As far as the details go, the Ohm chant on “Cosmic Essence Echoes Consciousness,” hanging out over the anticipatory crowd is enchanting. “Omar Shagbark Rockin’ the TT Train to Nowhere” is a trippy enlightment jam that leads right into the raw bluesy “Naked” which starts off with Al’s declaration “I have a kick drum heartbeat and a saxophone breath.” Oh yes.

Volume Two is the stronger, angrier and more powerful of the set. If Volume One is the inner journey, then this is the outer journey, as it were.

It starts off with “Changes,” a rapid fire world beat jazz jam with frenetic lyrics that are a genius self-promotional piece in the tradition of early Hip Hop with words like “My people blaze kind as I flash a peace signs/Revolution firmly planted its seeds in my mind/The same mind that I speak from time to time/And I write red rhymes if I'm so inclined…” Oh yeah.
Moving on through the “structured improvisation” we hit the funky organ-laden “Nick and Dime,” which then leads into the brilliant social commentary of the spoken word piece “America.” As poetry it is beautifully done with stunning imagery and flowing rhythms. As commentary and history it is brilliant and, to the progressive mind, dead on. Read the words to “America” here and elect Al Howard president.
Moving on from there is hard to do. When I first played the CD I stopped and replayed “America” at least a dozen times. But move on I eventually did and came upon the funky scream of “Peregrine” and finally onto the closing track, “Shadows & Lights,” “a musical emancipation/Call to remove shackles off a once fertile imagination.” God damn!
Also, in August/September Al Howard released a solo CD of sorts. I say of sorts because it featured all of the members of the K23 Orchestra but also a few featured and impressive guests like John Stalen of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Bryan Stratman of Honey Bucket and Sean Hart of the Capricorn Travel Agency. Really. The CD is entitled (deep breath) 14 Days of the Universe in Incandescent Bloom (14 Days) and “holds a - (Kynd Music Magazine)

"Whisper of a Newborn Ghost"

It was only back in 2006 that Nas proclaimed that hip hop was dead. And he was right. As a genre, hip hop had descended from its once esteemed heights of creativity, street grittiness and innovation into a white-washed, super-glossed barren vacuum of producer driven drivel. With real instruments and even the creative use of samples stripped away, replaced by a stunningly vacuous bank of computer-generated tones and beats, each new artist's sound became a carbon copy of whatever the latest focus group determined would sell to the masses and still be able to fit comfortably into the next McDonald's commercial. Hip hop and rap had become consumer-focused, corporate banality. After all, you don't want to offend any of your super-sized Big Mac buyers.

But from the very first funk heavy guitar riff that K23 Orchestra unleashes in "Big in El Portal," you know you're in for something different. Mixing the dynamic soul/funk tones of seventies-era Curtis Mayfield and Issac Hayes with the freaky jazz fusion blowouts of Billy Cobham and Herbie Hancock, K23 take us back to the future of rap/hip hop. Rapping over a fantastic wah-wah guitar, Alfred Howard makes his street weary statement, while the bass and live drums drive the rhythm. The groove-heavy, seventies-era guitar blast of a chorus drives the urgency of Alfred's protests, that he'll wake up, break out of the crime and despair of urban life and make his escape. Fuck, it's been ages since rap/hip hop sounded this urgent.

"Whoop Tee Dee," is just a bonafied jazz-fusion/funk masterpiece. Leading off with a down home funky-ass bass riff the likes of which haven't been heard since "Superfly," the guitar and organ pile on top like individual ingredients being carefully stirred into a boiling pot of gumbo. And as this concoction reaches temperature, the song bubbles over and spills out of the pot in a pulsing stew of funk and jazz. With organ under-pinning Alfred's rap, he declares that, "Crooked master break these chains. We will be free." Where the song goes from there is unknown territory for rap as it evolves into a full-on jazz-rock-funk jam.

"Ace," switches gears, in terms of pace, but not intent. Over a slower, percolating funk jam, the clean guitar tones pick out a beautiful melody. With Alfred's street poetry name dropping Alice Coltrane it becomes clear what we're experiencing here. This is Gil-Scott Heron for the new millennium. Lynton Kweisi Johnson of jazz-rock fusion. A lyrical statesman, a man with a message, a musician, a composer. This is the rebirth of rap as something vital, as a voice, as a statement. As something with a future.

After a brief classical chamber quartet interlude with "Drifting Nexus," (yes, when was the last time you heard a cello on a rap record?) and the desolate piano tones of "Pulse," K23 picks up the funk again with "Connected." Amongst the jazz organ and deliciously picked guitar lines, guest vocalist Rosey-Dawn Selwitz bursts across like a supernova. And what a find she is, as we listen, we're hearing the astral birth of a star, someone to keep an eye out for as her solo career reaches orbit. The way she blasts off the record is reminiscent of Caron Wheeler exploding to super-stardom after her first few tracks of Soul II Soul.

I could go on about each track, but it'd be better if you just checked it out yourself. K23 has taken bits and pieces of the great artists that came before them in jazz, funk and rock and transformed the collage into something new and vital. And by doing so, they've breathed new life into the decaying corpse of hip hop, got its heart to start beating again and rekindled it's once brain dead mind.

In doing so, K23 have proved that Nas was wrong. Hip hop isn't dead, it was just waiting for some freakishly cool new Dr. Frankenstein to come along and bring it all back to life.--Racer
- The Ripple Effect


Kudra (2003)
Live at Lestats Vol I (2004)
Live at Lestats Vol II (2004)
14 Days of the Universe (2004)
Whisper of a Newborn Ghost (2006)



Alfred Howard and the K23 (AHK23) combines in the pocket funk, staccato
spoken word, classic soul, aggressive rock and vintage psychedelic. The group has invented its own genre by combining limitless soundscapes to create something new and impacting. Their musical stylemoves seamlessly through tightly arranged changes to extended open jams with powerful crescendos and quick shifts in dynamic, while Alfred Howard’s lyrics transcend a style or genre, appealing to humanities most primal essence. Continually requested to return wherever they play, the 5 strong rhythmic voices (rhodes & organ, guitar, bass, drums and vocals) sculpt a collective and cohesive expression delivering a high-energy live show fueled by rapid-fire conscious lyricism. AHK23 has found an audience in the world
of funk fiends, indie-rock fans, hip-hop heads, reggae followers and even poetry
lovers. Their message is one of social change through music and art.

K23 has won the San Diego Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Band three consecutive years (2003 - 2006). The K23 Orchestra has shared the stage with such talents as Ozomatli, Soundtribe Sector 9, Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, Slightly Stoopid, Fishbone, the Living Legends, Digable Planets, the Beat Junkies, Mikah 9, John Brown’s Body, 2Mex, Ralph Nader, Digital Underground, Brand Nubian and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. They have preformed at the best festivals on the west-coast including High Sierra, Xingolati, Reggae on the River, Earthdance, Harmony Fest and the Whole Earth in addition to Wakarusa. Alfred Howard has sat in with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Umphrey’s Mcgee, Perry Ferrel, Digital Underground, Garaj Mahal, the Slip, Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, ALO, the Breakfast and many others. He has been a member of multiple Everyone Orchestras. He performed at the 2003 Jane’s Addiction New Year’s Show, has given readings at SDSU and UCSD and has won the UCSD Poetry Slam. He has read his poetry to assemblies at Torrey Pines, Sunset, Valley Center and La Costa Canyon High Schools. He has recently read his poem “America” on the High Sierra Music Festival Main Stage as well as opening for Bobby Kennedy and Senator Barbara Boxer at the SD Bay Keepers Convention.

The K23 Orchestra is:

Alfred Howard (lyrics and vocals) – After graduating Boston College, Al spent some time traveling throughout the U.S. and wrote a book about his experiences traveling called the, “Serpentine Highway” (Altered States Press). The book is a collection of poetry and observations from the perspective of a young African-American’s life on the road. Accompanying the Book is AH&K23’s debut album of the same title. Al has been influenced heavily by many different people throughout his life including; Jazz greats such as John McLaughlin and Charles Mingus, to hip-hop artists such as Aesop Rock and Digable Planets, to rock artists such as Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Bright Eyes and Neutral Milk Hotel.

Steve Craft (drums) – Steve is self-taught and has fifteen years experience playing the drums. He has performed locally with countless bands since high school and his eclectic style is influenced by everything from Benny Goodman to Pantera.

Ian Wright (guitar) –Has been playing guitar for 17 years in various Southern California bands, versed in rock, blues, funk, ska and jazz, Ian stands at 6'8" with a stage presence as large.

Matt LaBarber (bass) – Matt is from the Buffalo area of New York and likes to rock.

Josh Rice (keyboards) –Has played locally around San Diego since 2000.