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Pianist/composer Alex Levin has penned a fine set of tunes for his sterling playersbassist Diallo House and drummer Taylor Davis; and the complementary playing (on selected tunes) of guests Max Hacker and Stacy Dillard on tenor saxophones, Chad Coe on guitar and William Martina on celloto bring to fruition. This music is very much in the straight-ahead tradition but Levin understands how to put his own signature on what sounds like familiar material. Cellist Martina, for example, states the theme on the Brazilian-inspired "Emma's Ennui and Levin's bittersweet melodic line sits perfectly in the voice of the cello. And guitarist Coe fills out the sound of the group with color and verve.
Levin is a smart and sensitive pianisthe's able to blend an accomplished technique with a sense of what works to tell a story. He understands the jazz vocabulary and also color and texture. He opens this, his second album, with "Blues for Thursday, a crowd-pleaser that, says the composer, was written with Art Blakey in mind. Both horns state the theme and weave together a smoking tapestry of down-home emotion. And then Levin changes course and offers up a delicate balladthe title tunethat is dark and quiet. "Her Solitary Wish suggests brooding emotion but its melancholy theme and the powerful playing of Dillard turn this into a grand statement of passion.
These tunes and all the playing have a little of everythingblues, bebop, bossa, ballads and, somehow more. It makes sense that Levin is an English teacher and in pursuit of a degree in literature. His writing and the way he creates the space for his players to speak and act suggest the workings of a master communicator.
Track Listing: Blues on Thursday; A Reason for Being Alone; Emma's Ennui; For Pete's Sake; Her Solitary Wish; Your Call; New Schooled; Polar Bear Waltz; Blues Through Stained Glass.
Personnel: Alex Levin: piano; Diallo House: bass; Taylor Davis: drums; Max Hacker: tenor saxophone (1,7); Chad Coe: guitar (3); Stcy Dillard: tenor saxophone (1,5); William Martina: cello (3,6).