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Daniel Levin Quartet: Blurry

Chris May By

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Though there's nothing remotely revivalist or retro about it, the music made by cellist Daniel Levin's drummerless quartet—glowing, lyrical, adventurous chamber jazz—resonates strongly with the first stirrings of free jazz circa 1960 and the third stream/cool experiments of the half-decade leading up to it. Like all the most successful post-modern creative ventures, Levin's quartet positions its antecedents in plain sight, but rises above them to create something novel, fascinating and unmistakably of its own time.



Blurry is the group's third album, a very welcome follow-up to Don't Go It Alone (Riti, 2003) and Some Trees (hatOLOGY, 2006).



As a composer and arranger, Levin's most obvious influence is saxophonist Ornette Coleman, whose wayward, angular melodicism runs through all his writing, and whose "Law Years" is one of only two non-originals included on Blurry (Coleman was similarly acknowledged on Some Trees). Given the importance of form and structure in Levin's music—individual solos are frequently set against pre-arranged collective soundscapes or individual counterpoints—the impression, at times, is of listening to a more pastel reading of Coleman's The Shape Of Jazz To Come or Free Jazz (both Atlantic, 1960).



Which is where the third stream/cool resonances kick in. Perhaps inevitably, because of its instrumentation, Levin's quartet also stirs mid-1950s memories of the Modern Jazz Quartet with vibraphonist Milt Jackson, and drummer Chico Hamilton's groups with cellists Fred Katz and Nat Gershman. There's a similar quality of reflective understatement, particularly in Levin's solos and those of vibraphonist Matt Moran, and of a close intimacy which seeks to include the listener in its embrace.



Since Don't Go It Alone, trumpeter Dave Ballou has been replaced by Nate Wooley, whose style, particularly in the lower register, where he is especially adept, hints at remembrance of an even earlier chamber jazz line-up: clarinetist Benny Goodman's 1940-41 sextet with trumpeter Cootie Williams. Wooley's mute-facilitated vocalizations are uncannily evocative of Williams' trademark growls and smears.



An outstanding disc—beautiful, well proportioned and seductive—from a group which truly is a quiet sensation.


Track Listing: Law Years; Improvisation II; 209 Willard Street; Cannery Row; Untitled; Relaxin' with Lee; Sad Song; Blurry.

Personnel: Daniel Levin: cello; Nate Wooley: trumpet; Matt Moran: vibraphone; Joe Morris: double bass.

Title: Blurry | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Hat Hut Records

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