New York-based pianist Alex Levin borrows standards from the jazz-rich era of the 1940s,' 50s and '60s, and includes a couple of originals for New York Portraits, his third album as leader. Along with bassist Michael Bates (leader of the Outside Sources ensemble) and drummer Brian Floody, the trio lays down a relaxed shuffle of rhythm-based music, lending superb interpretations to some time-honored classics. Influenced by the music of Ahmad Jamal, who the pianist met while pursuing studies at The New School's Jazz Program, Levin pays also homage to pianists Bill Evans and Red Garland, among others, on this session.
Enchanted by its rich musical history and vibrant jazz scene, the city of New York provides the primary inspiration for Levin's music, the pianist explaining, "New York Portraits is like a big painting of New York." Like an artist with a vision, Levin serves up a palette of beautiful music; brush strokes to the canvas of a musical masterpiece. A gifted pianist, with crisp right-hand lines during brisker solo moments, Levin is neither a showy or selfish player, but is firm and commanding instead.
Levin's portrait begins with a mid-tempo rendition of the Rogers and Hart standard "My Heart Stood Still," followed by the album's highlight : Anthony Newly's staple, "Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)." One of the most identifiable standards from The Great American Songbook is Irving Berlin's "Cheek To Cheek"; here, Levin's trio delivers it with such authoritative romp and swing that it's difficult to imagine Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers keeping up with the tempo. On the immortal "I Remember You," the trio settles into a tasteful groove, with Floody providing the steady drum beats with deliberate stick work, as the pianist paints the melody.
Bates introduces the melancholy "Last Train to Brooklyn," and provides the lead on this original soft ballad, while the other Levin chart, "Blues for Charley," reveals a touch of the Jamal influence. With the drummer on brushes and the pianist applying an equally light touch, the set closes with a warm and humbling version of that traditional jazz standard "Body and Soul," applying the final touches to a portrait of elegant light jazz.
My Heart Stood Still; Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me); Last Train to Brooklyn; Cheek to Cheek; I Remember You; I Love You Porgy; Isn't it a Pity?; Like Someone in Love; Blues for Charley; Body and Soul.
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