Mark Levine, acoustic piano; Peter Barshay, acoustic bass; Paul Van Wageningen, drums; Michael Spiro, percussion.
There's a sense of deja vu as one listens to these magnificent, newly recorded Latin Jazz sides by Mark Levine, the San Francisco-based master pianist, author, and university music educator. As some listeners may recall, Levine and bassist Peter Barshay were band mates on the famous "Up 'Til Now" session on Catalyst, which was played regularly on the now-defunct KJAZ radio station in the late 1970s. Historical considerations aside, one suddenly realizes that the tremendous rhythmic and harmonic drive that was so evident in that classic session has been honed, in this new millennium, to perfection. With masterful support from Messrs. Spiro and Van Wageningen, Levine and Barshay transform eleven highly challenging and contrasting pieces, including Mulgrew Miller's "Second Thoughts" and "Small Portion", into genuine, creative expression. Few pianists anywhere are able to hear so many sounds in relation to a single chord or succession of chords, and it is this integrity with regard to harmonic structure that sets Levine apart from the rest. The elegant, cantabile passagework evoked by the recurrent "E" pedal point in "Jean Marie", the Ronnie Matthews masterpiece, is evidence of an acute intelligence, alive to the meaning of music as an art form. Hey, It's Me is nothing less than a first-rate session. Levine's entire recorded output is ripe for reissuance.
by James D. Armstrong, Jr.
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