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Ray Levier: Ray's Way

Dan McClenaghan By

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New York-based drummer Ray Levier contends for debut CD of the year with Ray's Way. He's assembled an all-star cast, including two of the finest guitarists plying the six string trade: John Abercrombie and Mike Stern, on five and four cuts respectively.

Levier's drumming has a "serve the music" approach that can be subtle or assertive, and often quite rock-influenced, as on the Mike Stern-penned "You Never Know," a tune that recalls Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits' mid-'80s "I want my MTV" lament. Saxophonist David Binney sits in on four cuts, adding a growling texture to the often glowing, sustain-heavy (guitar/vibes) ensemble sound.

Levier's "Song for Nury"—with John Abercrombie on guitar—has a tranquil and folksy sound, with Joe Locke's vibe's infusing a feeling of otherworldly spirituality. "Blues in the Closet," written by Oscar Pettiford, is a trio effort featuring Stern on guitar, playing with a particularly luminous sound in front of bassist Ned Mann's deep, smooth-flowing groove and Levier's seamless bustle.

"Echoing," written by bassist Francois Moutin—who plays on this and six more tunes on the disc—features an icy cool ensemble mood that showcases Locke's crystalline vibe work. Abercrombie's "Ralph's Piano Waltz" is a highlight—if one must be picked—with a drifting, ethereal mood and a guitar-ish Moutin bass solo in front of Locke's neon comping. Stern's "Bait Tone Blues" has a feeling of agitation, with the guitarist stinging out sharp single notes like a mad wasp, while his smeared chording behind Binney's sax gives the sound an organ trio vibe.

Levier has crafted a first-rate, modern-sounding jazz set. The cohesive ensemble mood—unusual when the cast of players rotates—is maintained from start to finish, and though he doesn't call a bunch of attention to himself, it's worth a spin or two just to hone in on what he does on the drums.

Keep an ear on this Lavier guy—he's got "rising star" written all over him.

Track Listing: Ray's Way; Manhatta; You Never Know; Song for Nury; Blues in the Closet; Bait Tone Blues; Ralph's Piano Waltz; Echoing; Wing and a Prayer.

Personnel: Dave Binney: saxophone (1, 3 4, 6); Federico Turreni: soprano sax (8); John Abercrombie: guitar: 1, 2, 4, 7, 8); Mike Stern: guitar (3, 5, 6, 9); Joe Locke: vibes (1, 2, 4, 7, 8); Francois Moutin: bass (1-4, 6-8); Ned Mann: bass(5, 9); Ray Levier: drums.

Title: Ray's Way | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Origin Records

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