What paths are improvising
guitarists of the post-fusion generation pursuing? The two most common approaches are neoclassical
(read: rehashed bop licks) and smooth jazz (read: elevator music).
Not so for Mr. Levit! On East River View, his third
release since 1994, the Virginia native continues to tap his own Muse, ably assisted by
the trio who helped make the previous Afterimage such a rewarding musical journey.
This time around, the plectorist also reveals a new dimension of
his artistry to those who know him only from his prior releases: five selections here mark
his first recorded ventures on acoustic guitar, an instrument he is clearly well
acquainted with. Going unplugged has in no way diminished Levit's strong individual sound,
however. Rather, it has added a new depth and breadth to his compositions. There are
occasional nods to the acoustic works of Ralph Towner, Pat Metheny and one of the leader's
early mentors, John McLaughlin. Levit's professed debt to 20th century classical music is
also more detectable on the compositions which feature acoustic guitar. Still, the overall
sound is quite distinctive.
Levit's greatest strength as composer is his ability to balance
innovation with respect for tradition. On his past efforts, he's written several fine
homages to his elders: "Magic Sam" for Sam Rivers and "Bleyism" for
Paul Bley among them. East River View presents us with "Last Stop
Cuernavaca", a reference to the Mexican town where Charles Mingus died. As with the
aforementioned tunes, Levit manages to evoke the spirit of his subject without resorting
to imitation. This eight-minute piece weaves balladry, blues and tango into a succinct
suite. Even more astounding is "5 Miniatures", which juggles a frenetic
guitar/tenor chase, Balinese gamelon sounds, grunge rock, contemporary chamber music and
gritty blues into a volatile three-minute cocktail; it will either intoxicate or repulse,
depending on one's tolerance for such a strange brew.
Saxist Chris Cheek is a powerful presence throughout, whether on
tenor or soprano. Referred too recently by a musical peer as "one of the three
Chrises" (Speed and Potter being the others in this holy triumvirate of young New
York reedmen), Cheek also freelances with Paul Motian and Wolfgang Muthspiel. Bassist
Stephan Crump and percussionist John Mettam complete Levit's "New York Quartet",
one of two foursomes he currently fronts, given his recent relocation to Maryland,
necessitating a second group on his new home turf.
East River View may not be easy to find locally; it is the
first jazz release on Whirlybird Records, a label founded by electronic music iconoclast
Simeon, whose band Silver Apples achieved cult status nearly thirty years ago. For
information on this and other Whirlybird recordings, phone (410) 269-7651, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program Guide, 1998