Al Howard and K23 Orchestra

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

There’s hip-hop with a difference at Henfling’s Firehouse Tavern in Ben Lomond this Friday.  Al Howard and K23 Orchestra, based in San Diego, have a unique slant on the genre, relying not on beat-boxes and samples but guitar, upright bass, drums and keyboards.  A concert by the band, known as AH&K23 for short, owes as much to the traditions of jazz and Latin music as to the world of urban hip-hop, with extended improvisations often spinning off from the structured songs from the band’s two CDs.

Bandleader, lyricist and vocalist Alfred Howard claims that the diversity of AH&K23’s sound can be traced back to the diversity of his musical influences.  During the course of his life, he listened to and was influenced by jazz artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, classic rockers like Led Zeppelin and hip-hop artists like Mos Def and A Tribe Called Quest.  After graduating from Boston College, Howard hit the road in the tradition of many American writers, traveling around the United States and writing about his experiences.  The result of his travels was, in 2001, a book titled “Serpentine Highway” (Altered States Press) and the band’s debut CD, which shared the same title.

“Serpentine Highway” was well received, appealing equally to hip-hop fans and jazz aficionados as well as poetry lovers and fans of jam bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead.  The Scene Magazine said of AH&K23’s music, “Disregard the genre of music you have an affinity for because Al Howard touches on the heart and idealistic soul of every individual.”

“Serpentine Highway” was followed in 2003 by “Kudra.”  The same year, the band won the San Diego Music Award for best hip-hop band.  AH&K23 are currently touring the West Coast and winning new fans wherever they go.  When he is not on the road, Howard visits schools in and around San Diego to speak to the students about his work.

Opening for AH&K23 on Friday is Underbite, a band hailing from Mississippi.  In contrast to AH&K23’s hip-hop/jazz fusion, Underbite plays a quirky brand of rock music with song titles like “I Bought My Baby on eBay” and “Nipple Chicken.”  Describing their own music as “a synthesis of music and orthodontia for the soul,” Underbite are clearly a band in the tradition of rock-satirists The Tubes.  Awarded 2002’s “Best Unsigned Band” by Billboard magazine, Underbite also received a Grammy nomination for “Everyday Orifice,” used in the soundtrack of a documentary aired at the Sundance Film festival.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, October 21, 2004

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