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).
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone
Jazz and the blues--because together this musical brother and sister speak from our nation's days of the current cultural affairs and the authenticity and truth of a place where the rhythms held the pulse and the drums the heartbeat, representing every step closer the meat on the bone. Feet in the dirt, or barefoot on a stage with sequins--it's soul beats in my chest.
I was first exposed to jazz while others listened to surf music in the '50s and '60s, it was Monk, Miles, Satchmo and Ella, Rosemary Clooney and Julie London followed. Margaret Whiting, Les McCann, Willie Bobo, Andy Simpkins, Snooky Young, Bill Basie and Helen Humes. The first time I heard Topsy, Take 2, I about passed out at the age of ten.
I've hung with Les McCann who more than 30 years after our first meeting became my duet partner on my CD, Don't Go To Strangers. Karen Hernandez from the start, Jack Le Compte on drums, Lou Shoch on bass, Steve Rawlins as my arranger and pianist, Grant Geissman - guitar genius, Nolan Shaheed, Richard Simon, and more. The big boys. My Red Hot Papas. The best show I ever attended was...
I met Helen Humes first back in 1981 and helped turn one Playboy Jazz Festival night into her tribute, bring the Basie Band to stage, her joy boys. Before she took the stage for the last time to sing, If I could Be With You One Hour Tonight thousands of copies of the newspaper I wrote for carried her story. It was kismet, her being held by Joe Williams backstage. Soon in my life were the great Linda Hopkins who told me I sang the song she wrote better than her, which floored me of course, the energizing Barbara Morrison and the stellar Marilyn Maye who guided me professionally.
My advice to new listeners... let your backbone slip and feel your body stripping back the barriers that prevent us from being one with the music.
Remember none of us are strangers, we just haven't met yet.