Daniel Levin/Juan Pablo Carletti

Illusion of Truth
Outnow ONOR 18

Daniel Levin Quartet

Friction

Clean Feed CF 342 CD

Ripe for new experiments and contexts is New York cellist Daniel Levin as he demonstrates on these releases. Member in good standing of the city’s experimental music scene, the Burlington, Vt.-born cellist has been recording with his quartet since 2006, but is also available to be challenged by the likes of reedists Joe McPhee or Ivo Perelman in other contexts. His skills along with those Erik Friedlander and Fred Lonberg-Holm among others, have helped carve out a burgeoning role in jazz-improvised music for an instrument that until recently was treated as an oddball obsession for the few such as Fred Katz and Oscar Pettiford.

Like another echo of those earlier times, Levin’s quartet – filled out by trumpeter Nate Wooley vibraphonist Matt Moran and new member Torbjorn Zetterberg on bass, has created a provocatively swinging eight-track session that evokes vibist Teddy Charles early 1950s chamber-Jazz dates with, among others, trumpeter Shorty Rogers and bassist Curtis Counce. Comparisons only go so far though, since unlike the Charles tracks there’s no drummer present and it’s Levin who takes the role a guitarist essayed six decades ago. In contrast, melding tones from of his cello and the bass also gives the tunes a low-pitched infrastructure. The result is more akin to the foundation needed for a rugged east-coast dwelling than the spacious airiness common to what was built in California by Charles and others. Here, a tune like “Whisper” emphasizes the near-motor-driven power of eight strings sprawling across wood, while Wooley appears to be digging contorted muted notes from within his horn.

Also more cerebral than their forbearers, the Levin 4 can access the sizzle of an electric frying pan on “Particles” with a recipe that uses the trumpeter’s elongated glissandi to bond with disconnected cello sweeps and intermittent vibe resonation creating a satisfying musical meal. These feasts are well balanced and musically nutritious as well, especially when the fibre implicit in Levin’s glissandi balance Moran’s sweetened undercurrent plus Wooley’s obbligato overlaid with effervescence. The tunes can be flinty as well as fibrous though. Zetterberg’s firm strums are executed with the power needed to cut through giant redwoods, for instance on “Chol” so that it takes Levin’s saber-like sweeps to more closely focus the tune. Glacially paced, the theme doesn’t revert to toughness until each musician’s solo leans into the others.

Friction’s ersatz chamber Jazz is replaced by the strain of down-to-earth improvisations on Illusion of Truth, as Levin and drummer Juan Pablo Carletti suggest the manual labor that results from demarcating the rhythmic functions of their instruments. Buenos Aires-born, Carletti has been in New York since 2006 and is part of alto saxophonist Rob Brown’s quartet. This CD’s five-part improvisation moves slowly, insinuates each player’s textures into the augmenting musical yarn as the two begin to suggest the creation of an imaginary western sound track with the sure-footedness of a lone cowboy rambling across the plain. The drummer’s surging clip-clop pattern suggests the mount, while the cellist’s trim but brawny string sweeps move with the stridency of desperado intent on his mission. This undercurrent of violence – musical not physical – make “Part I” and “Part II” as taut and serious as a gunfight builds up dramatically with the spaces between notes getting smaller and the sounds themselves reaching a climax of agitated harshness.

Like the comic relief provided by the Western hero’s sidekick, “Part III” shatters all conventional expectations as a lively counter-theme supplants the original one. Building up to a refreshing climax, Levin’s squirming strokes resemble those of Katz’s at his most unfettered; while Carletti reinforces the line with rattles and cracks as percussively melodic as anything subtly smacked by drummer Chico Hamilton, Katz’s erstwhile employer.

Without extending these comparisons too far and into the realm of double fantasy, the duo’s pseudo-programmatic sounds are transformed during the two final selections into displays of close-monitored extended techniques. While the scurries and barks produced from both rhythm instruments could come from prairie dogs or timber wolves, the key concept is pushing together tones to overlap as multi-pitched excitement. Finally all the timbres meld for an unprepossessing ending, but with enough animated drama as the figurative credits roll to wrap up the improvisations with as pronounced nod to the themes which marked the first act.

Cellos appear unlikely to replace in popularity saxophones, trumpets, guitars or drums. But with an impressionistic session like Friction and an exploratory one like Illusion of Truth, Levin is demonstrating its adaptability.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Illusion: 1. Part I 2. Part II 3. Part III 4. Part IV 5. Part V

Personnel: Illusion: Daniel Levin (cello) and Juan Pablo Carletti (drums)

Track Listing: Friction: 1. Launcher 2. Whisper 3. Terrarium I 4. Chol 5. Terrarium II 6. Particles 7. Lyrical 8. Springtime

Personnel: Friction: Nate Wooley (trumpet); Matt Moran (vibraphone); Daniel Levin (cello) and Torbjorn Zetterberg (bass)