The exclamation mark doesn't mean I'm a special fan. I've just heard Leviev, and to hear of him again was itself exciting. Long ago he came through the Iron Curtain from a jazz and big band career in Bulgaria, worked in Germany with the supertrombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, played on a brilliant Art Pepper album, and was associated with the late maverick genius Don Ellis until Ellis' early death.
No minor/marginal performer or classical graduate trying to, Leviev's been playing jazz since he lived in Bulgaria, a country whose indigenous music's distinction in rhythmic and harmonic terms would be no disadvantage; and he can play Beethoven. He might have been the pianist of Don Ellis's dreams. Leviev was a useful candidate for music whose time signatures could resemble blood pressure readings. The present set is the pilot of a project to revive, even pioneer, Ellis's compositions.
An unusually complete musician and instrumentalist (trumpeter), Ellis applied some of his "avant-garde/experimental" ideas running a (very) big band whose further intention was to hold a rock music audience. Like Charles Lloyd, he was called a charlatanwhich he wasn't. Heady stuff!
Heart problems killed him, but not before he'd made innovations and associated them with what the New Orleans veteran Henry "Red" Allen was doing at the same time, in continuity with tradition. The stride and walking, almost boogie bass elements Leviev applies in the opener, "Pussy Wiggle Stomp," bring roots to mind. The liner notes report that the orginal plan was for a very superior demo disc consisting exclusively of previously unrecorded Ellis compositions. Leviev's playing of some classic Ellis numbers changed that.
"Possibilities" resembles some rhapsodic-virtuosic, orchestral solo piano work by an earlier undervalued Ellis collaborator, Jaki Byard. "Homeless," from 1960, combines bop, a tincture of Ellington piano, and Russian romantic rhapsody. I'd disagree with the inlay suggestion that this solo piano pilot could have been delivered by any of several pianists. Who else could deliver the dynamics of a certain sudden move into pianissimo?
"Simple Samba" follows three examples of orchestral piano with economic simplicity, before the hands start moving about the keyboard, even following lines straight across the piece's leading rhythm. Surely Leviev can't have more than three hands? Some way into "Requiem for a Friendship" they go walkabout, even including a walking bass passage.
"Indian Lady" was a classic Ellis big band wailer, but there's no need to have heard the unforgettable original before being impressed by Leviev's piano transcription stomp. The hefty lumps of a quoted Beethoven sonata tossed into another number are explained as an allusion to Leviev's performance long ago at a live Ellis gig: a bit much, youthful exuberance.
The two concluding numbers, fully written-out Ellis piano miniatures on the edge of impressionism, are something else. On "Rain Forest" Leviev floats the contrasting lines in a contrapuntal section like a master; well, he is one. "Sugar's Lullaby" hovers on the brink of cascading into jazz improvisation, also miraculous. The unknown Ellis, very Ellis. And Milcho Leviev!