At Iota Monday night, Howard Fishman announced that the next song would be by one of his favorite musicians -- Hoagy Carmichael. That statement gives an accurate indication of Fishman's mind-set and the sound of his New York band, which amicably mixed hot jazz, cool bop, some rhythm-and-blues strut and a dash of that singer-songwriter thing. Officially the group is the Howard Fishman Quartet, but it played as a five-piece band Monday, adding a drummer to the core of violin, upright bass, trumpet and Fishman's acoustic guitar and vocals. HFQ's blueprint is mannered, but escapes retro-posturing by incorporating real improvisational opportunities for the players. Not all of those worked, but they hit more than they missed over the course of two 40-minute sets.
The band (which advertises on its Web site that it plays weddings and private functions) made its reputation in Big Apple joints like the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, and songs like "Good Times" and "Mary Ann" percolated with a metropolitan flair. Fishman, who spent his formative years in Connecticut and studied at Vassar, also lived in New Orleans, and that city's second-line groove occupied a prominent place in the show, giving the band's acoustic sound real whomp.
Fishman's main weakness is as a lyricist -- love that hasn't blossomed seems perpetually to haunt his songs -- and the group was best when stomping through something lighthearted like "Molly's Pies." Even when the words weren't quite up to snuff, however, the music wheeled along with impressive alacrity.
-- Patrick Foster