Many people can play. But not so many can really play — and there is a difference beyond the changed font.
To get past one’s technique to be creative (without being self-indulgent); to honor the jazz tradition without being stuck in the past; to get a lovely sound out of one’s instrument; to create solos that stand on their own as artistically complete; to tell one’s story . . . that’s more rare.
Pianist Alex Levin’s first CD shows him to be one of the rare ones. When you visit his website — as I hope you will — you’re greeted instantly with the opening bars of a lightly graceful CHEEK TO CHEEK: http://www.alexlevinjazz.com/
You’ll admire his light touch, his lovely voicings, the way he makes the piano sing out. And he’s got an innate rhythmic enthusiasm that makes for danceable music — without sacrificing everything for the pure push of rhythm.
Alex says he’s been inspired by the late Herman Foster, but he doesn’t sound like one of those technically-assured people with no ideas of their own. You know, all those Jazz-Master-Clones, well-intentioned but ultimately limited.
The musical pleasures I am describing are to be found on his new CD, called NEW YORK PORTRAITS (its neat cover, designed by Peter Moser, is at the top).
Without making jokes, Alex is witty — catch the extended intentional detour into JEEPERS CREEPERS on CHEEK TO CHEEK, fitting perfectly. He’s courageous, too: it takes a certain candor and openness to approach BODY AND SOUL these days, and his version stands beautifully on its own.
Alex has surrounded himself with the best talent: bassist Michael Bates and drummer Brian Floody, and left them space to breathe, to sing their own songs. The two originals on this CD have their own melodic gravity — and shape, and the music Alex has created will (although accessible to people who “don’t like jazz”) will reverberate pleasantly in your ears for a long time. Check him out.
As Billie Holiday said of Jimmy Rowles — she was telling Lester Young about this new White musician, unknown to Lester (who was suspicious), “I don’t know . . . boy can blow!” As can Alex.
SWING OUT WITH JUST ONE CLICK: ALL MONEY COLLECTED GOES TO THE MUSICIANS!