Daniel Levin Quartet

Some Trees
Hatology 632

Near flawless chamber jazz, cellist Daniel Levin’s quartet inhabits eight unforced improvisations without ever turning effete or enervated.

Inspired soloing from all concerned – especially the leader, and trumpeter Nate Wooley – provides some of the session’s impetus, while the remainder comes from the powerful rhythmic thrust of Joe Morris’ bass and Matt Moran’s vibes. Morris – a dual threat, best-known as a guitarist – provides the ostinato underpinning for many tunes; while Moran, a member of the Claudia Quintet, sounds quivering key vibrations as often as accompanying wallops, especially when playing in unison with Morris.

Levin, who also works with drummer Whit Dickey and alto saxophonist Rob Brown, uses this session to showcase his compositions plus pay homage to such jazz elders as Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman and Steve Lacy. Throughout, the delicate balance between formalism and freedom is maintained, without falling definitely either way. New to this band is trumpeter Nate Wooley. But the innovative brassman, who partners trombonist Steve Swell among others, brings memorable flair to the proceedings.

Establishing his presence from the first, Wooley’s slurred half-valve work on the lead-off track “It’s For You”, marks his accommodation to the already existing combo with less experimental playing than his solo sessions. Throughout, however, he easily links Levin’s sawing strokes and Moran’s moderato quivers, while on the atmospheric title tune he adopts sequenced grace notes à la mid-period Miles Davis. Often his chromatic obbligatos are matched in double counterpoint by splayed shuffle bowing from the cellist that’s both lyrical and legato.

Careful linear vibe reverberation adds another facet to the interplay as Moran’s pitter-pattering joins the others in polyphonic expression on Lacy’s “Wickets”. With Morris stroking traffic-directing pulses on the bottom, the brass man and the cellist extend themselves still further. Wooley narrows his exhalation to squeal narrowed timbres and Levin amplifies this outpouring with spiccato patterns. Metaphorically adapt, he skims his strings from sul ponticello to sul tasto tones.

Memorably impressive throughout, the only time Some Trees loses a bit of momentum is when Moran lays out on Coleman’s “Morning Song”, the final tune. Interlocking musical alliances which have worked so well until then suddenly reveal a deficiency with one voice subtracted.

Other than that minor caveat, the CD satisfies on all counts.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. It’s For You 2. Out To Lunch 3. Some Trees 4. Sitting On His Hands 5. Zolowski 6. Wild Palms 7. Wickets 8. Morning Song

Personnel: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Matt Moran (vibes [except 8]); Daniel Levin (cello); Joe Morris (bass)