Daniel Levin Trio – Fuhuffah (CF 129)
Fuhuffah is a departure of sorts for cellist Daniel Levin. His fourth recording as a leader dispenses with the chamber oriented instrumentation of his regular quartet (with bass, trumpet and vibraphone), in favor of a more conventional line-up. Accompanied by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Gerald Cleaver, Levin leads his trio through six original and one traditional tune that ebb and flow with previously untapped vigor.
Encapsulating a broad range of dynamics, this session occasionally veers into the somber atmospheres of Levin’s quartet albums while pushing further into vivacious rhythmic territory. The propulsive bass patterns of Flaten and the lively percussive interjections of Cleaver provide ample forward momentum, yet there is no shortage of tonal subtlety. Levin and Flaten utilize every string technique available to them, plucking and bowing with unfettered resolve, while Cleaver demonstrates sublime nuance, using both sticks and brushes with dexterous finesse.
Like a warning shot, Levin opens the album’s title track with a harsh descending motif that plummets into a thicket of dissonant intervals and jagged angles constructed from fervid double stops, bright pizzicato and strident harmonics, while Flaten’s hyperkinetic bass chases Cleaver’s restless trap set through a labyrinthine maze.
“Shape” is an exceptional study in rhythm; a slinky swinger driven by a cool, grooving bass line and a funky, insistent hi-hat that fuels a slew of sonorous cadences from the leader, as well as a lyrical closing statement from Flaten. “Metaphor” finds Levin embarking on a series of plangent excursions supported by Cleaver’s discerning cymbal accents and Flaten’s hypnotic bass ostinato.
Brimming with emotional catharsis, the traditional tune “Hangman” is delivered as a haunting dirge. Levin’s strident bowing invokes the tune’s mordant lyrics with heartrending intensity. “Woods” is equally fervent; Levin and Flaten weave sinuous arco phrases into resonant overtones.
Delving into free territory, “Open” showcases the trio in a texturally rich pointillist improvisation, while “Wiggle” closes the album with a passionate tribute to saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. Negotiating harsh angles at a breakneck tempo, Levin bows with manic virtuosity while Flaten and Cleaver push relentlessly forward, each taking individual solo statements in turn.
A vibrant and assertive detour from his usual chamber oriented quartet offerings, Fuhuffah offers another facet of Levin’s growing abilities as an improviser and writer of note.