November 20, 2008
Daniel Levin Quartet
Drummer-less chamber-improv without compromise, this CD is more lucid than Blurry. Cellist Daniel Levin, trumpeter Nate Wooley, vibraphonist Matt Moran and bassist Joe Morris clearly and resourcefully demonstrate how extended techniques can be interlaced with shaded pointillism to create a satisfying group effort.
Throughout the cellist’s multi-toned arches and spiccato interjects plus the trumpeter’s smeary growls and plunger excavations are as germane for the evolution of the eight tracks as the bassist’s stolid thumps and the vibist’s shimmering key bounces. Encompassing smooth transitions from one instrument’s contributions to another’s, these mostly Levin-composed lines, feature uncommon exchanges involving say a splintered chromatic aside from Wooley, supported by fundamental connective plucks from Morris. Frequently polyphonic, the tunes are melded and molded using note clusters that move them through quasi-romanticism, stark improvisation and luminescent vibrations.
If Wooley’s muted purring plunger work and Levin’s pizzicato rhythms suggest Cootie Williams and Jimmy Blanton when “Sad Song” begins, then tonal dislocations attain English garden delicacy rather than Ellington’s robust depictions by the finale. Yet Morris’ striated double-stopping halts the slide to gentleness. Crackling brass flanges perform the same function on “Cannery Row” balancing too lustrous reverberations from the vibraphone.
Most distinctive is “209 Willard Street”, a gently shaded piece that could be defined as impressionism with prickly asides. Moderato and andante, the theme is depicted by the cello’s sonorous tones, yet the rubato exposition is cycled through enough excursions in double counterpoint from muted trumpet and staccato vibe smacks that sentimentality is leeched from it.
— Ken Waxman
— In MusicWorks Issue #102