I don't know if guitarist Adam Levy made Buttermilk Channel with the searing heat of New York in July in mind, but his impressive debut effort as a leader makes perfect listening for lazy, languorous midsummer city days.
On this groove-based trio album (featuring New York stalwarts Larry Goldings on organ and Kenny Wollesen on drums), Levy creates a mood of laid-back cool, as he blends classic jazz guitar ("Sphere of Influence'), down-home blues ("I Guess"), tropical rhythms ("Orange You Glad") and sophisticated Steely Dan pop ("Dear John") into a rich, coherent musical stew. Like fellow guitar heavy Bill Frisell, Levy's genre-hopping is natural and unforced. He's equally comfortable bending blues notes a la B.B. King or playing straight-ahead jazz solos in the manner of, say, Kenny Burrell. And like Frisell, Levy is one of the few electric guitar players who favors subtlety over showmanship, who allows the music to unfold slowly rather than feeling the need to show off his chops constantly - though, make no doubt about it, Levy has chops to spare.
While the range of influences here is diverse (not surprising for an artist who has worked with everyone from John Zorn to Tracy Chapman), Buttermilk Channel feels of one piece, like there's actually a central unifying vision at work - a rare thing today when most jazz CDs sound like a slapdash assortment of unrelated songs. That sense of unity is due mostly to Levy's compositions, which are adventurous, yet accessible, well-crafted yet not over-written. And the presence of talented, likeminded cohorts like Goldings and Wollesen doesn't hurt either.
All in all, a very rewarding effort that warrants repeated listening, especially as the steamy days of August approach.
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