Tag Archives: Alex Levin

GUILTY, AS CHARGED

This morning, Connor Cole, a young Facebook friend, someone with good taste, casually asked me to list the recordings that had impressed me in the past year.  I’ve stopped composing “ten best” lists because I know that I will hurt the feelings of someone I’ve left off.  (I once applied for a job where there were openings for five people, and was told afterwards that I was number six, a memory which still, perhaps absurdly, stings.)  But Connor’s request pleased me, so I began thinking of the recordings of 2019.

Perhaps it was that I wasn’t fully awake, but I came up with almost nothing, which troubled me.  So I began searching through blogposts and came up with these reassuring entities (new issues only) in approximate chronological order, with apologies to those I’ve omitted, those discs which I will write about in 2020:

IN THIS MOMENT, Michael Kanan, Greg Ruggiero, Neal Miner

NEW ORLEANS PEARLS  Benny Amon

UNSTUCK IN TIME  Candy Jacket Jazz Band

NO ONE ELSE BUT YOU  Danny Tobias, Mark Shane

RAGTIME — NEW ORLEANS STYLE, Volume 2  Kris Tokarski, Hal Smith

PICK IT AND PLAY IT  Jonathan Stout

BUSY TIL’ ELEVEN  Chicago Cellar Boys

TENORMORE  Scott Robinson

UPTOWN  The Fat Babies

COMPLETE MORTON PROJECT  Andrew Oliver, David Horniblow

A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE, Alex Levin

DREAM CITY  David Lukacs

THE MUSIC OF THE BIRD AND THE BEE  Charles Ruggiero, Hilary Gardner

LESTER’S BLUES  Tom Callens

WINTER DAYS  Rebecca Kilgore, Echoes of Swing

The majority of those discs are musician-produced, funded, and released — which is yet another blogpost about “record companies” and their understandable attrition.  Economics, technology, and a changing audience.

But that list made me go back in time, decades of trading money for musical joy.

In late childhood, I would have walked or bicycled the mile to Times Square Stores and bought Louis’ Decca JAZZ CLASSICS for $2.79 plus tax.  A few years later, Monk cutouts on Riverside at Pergament or Mays. E.J. Korvette. Lester Young and Art Tatum Verves at Sam Goody’s.  A British enterprise, Tony’s, for exotic foreign discs.  In New York City, new Chiaroscuro issues at Dayton’s, Queen-Discs at Happy Tunes.

In the CD era, I would have stopped off after work at Borders or the nearby Tower Records for new releases on Arbors, Concord, Pablo, and import labels.  Again in the city, J&R near City Hall for Kenneth, French CBS, and more.  But record stores gave way to purchasing by mail, and eventually online.  Mosaic Records was born, as was Amazon, eventually eBay.

So today the times I actually visit “a record store,” it is to browse, to feel nostalgic, to walk away with a disc that I had once coveted — often with a deceased collector’s address sticker on the back — but I am much more likely to click on BUY IT NOW in front of this computer, or, even better, to give the artist twenty dollars for a copy of her new CD.

What happened?  I offer one simple explanation.  A musician I respect, who’s been recordings since 1991, can be relied upon to write me, politely but urgently and at length, how I and people like me have ruined (or “cut into”) his CD sales by using video cameras and broadcasting the product for free to large audiences.

So it’s my fault.  I killed Decca, Columbia, and Victor — Verve, Prestige, and Riverside, too.  Glad to have that question answered, that matter settled.  Now I’m off to do more damage elsewhere.

May your happiness increase!

“SOME TUNEFUL CATS”: STREET OF DREAMS (SAM TAYLOR, GREG RUGGIERO, AIDAN O’DONNELL, BEN CLINESS)

STREET OF DREAMS one

A musician friend I respect told me about this new quartet — called, sweetly, STREET OF DREAMS, and I was instantly pleased by the videos below.  When I shared them with another jazz fancier — like me, a devotee of melodic improvisation — I got back a near-instant response, “Those are some tuneful cats!”  I completely agree, and think you will too.

STREET OF DREAMS two

That’s Sam Taylor, tenor saxophone; Greg Ruggiero, guitar; Aidan O’Donnell, string bass; Ben Cliness, drums.  (I’ve met and video-ed three of the four [so far Ben has been safe from me] and I am proud to know them.)

YOUNG AT HEART:

CLOSE YOUR EYES:

CORCOVADO:

DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE:

AFTER YOU’VE GONE:

Melodists, making danceable music that is both deep and gossamer.  Those among us who play or sing know that making melody come alive is not easy. Ask Louis, ask Lester, ask Monk.  And I know that some devout jazz listeners might say that this band is less “innovative” or “adventurous” than they prefer, and I leave them to their search for what they like.

But beauty never has to innovate.  It just is.

To book this group — very new but by no means immature (!) — click here.

May your happiness increase!

WELCOME ALEX LEVIN!

I’m always delighted to learn about someone younger who has the real jazz spirit. 

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!

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VBURVAWDMWQAS