The cello is, like the bass clarinet, now something of a regular axe in the arsenal of creative music. Players like Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ernst Reijseger, Okkyung Lee, Glynis Lomon and Erik Friedlander’s extraordinary differences fill the palette. One can add New York-based cellist Daniel Levin to that mix.
Bacalhau (CF 195) is the second live recording of Levin’s quartet to be released on Clean Feed and finds the leader in conversation with trumpeter Nate Wooley, vibraphonist Matt Moran and bassist Peter Bitenc on nine pieces recorded at the 2009 Jazz ao Centro Festival in Coimbra, Portugal. Though the quartet might seem to operate on the side of ‘chamber improvisation’, such a judgment is quite far from the group’s reality, supported as it is by Bitenc’s meaty, solid pizzicato. Importantly, the quartet is an extraordinarily cooperative group – a band – and as a result, the leader is absent on one track. Though brief, this duo between Wooley and Moran (“Duo Nate and Matt”) serves to assert this unified singularity, presenting circularbreathed swaths and dashes of bowed lamella in a commingling of tones that both echo and result from electronic manipulation. Following is a quartet piece, “Bronx #3”, that sets Levin in an internal call-and-response supported by the bassist’s walk, soon joined by the crisp, sputtering fragment/mass of Wooley’s trumpet in a detailed, blustery fracas. Moran and Bitenc are cool counterpoint, measured motion and accent in relief to shouted and strung volleys. A slight holler enters into Levin’s unaccompanied opening to “Dock”, a bluesy stretch and gentle pluck anchoring this fragment before the lilting, simple theme enters and is followed by a river of mobiles from Moran’s vibes. A chunky repeating bass figure opens “P’s Jammes”, leading into postbop brass pirouettes and elongated arco snap. Metal, wood and string fold into one another and just as quickly disperse in recanted comments.
Soulstorm (CF 184) brings Levin together with tenorman Ivo Perelman and bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg on a two-disc set of trio improvisations. While the presence of heavy-hitting tenor might signal thoughts of a typical power trio, this threesome is decidedly different. The presence of Levin also speaks to Perelman’s history, for he’s also recorded doubling on cello. The set is divided into a studio and a live disc, with all pieces collectively improvised. What’s paramount in this set is the way in which Perelman and Levin work together. Rather than crisp exercises in contrast, they draw from a similar palette, long lines of burnished vocal tenor dovetailing with a fine, meaty drone and liquid crags. Perelman plays the tenor soft and thick, spry and swirling with material hue. Levin’s arms and bow match fingers and keys complementarily, his jousts a hum of declamatory gestures. Though it’s clearly a show for reed and cello, Zetterberg adds a constant foundational undercurrent; rather than matching wits with Perelman and Levin’s fluttering buzzsaws, he’s a quietly creative motor. With surges of raw emotion and humanist abstraction, Soulstorm presents a heady brew even in the sparsest moments.