Reviews

 

Tonight and Tomorrow – One of Downbeat Magazine’s “Best CDs of 2010”

Tonight and Tomorrow – 4 Stars! (“Excellent”) – Downbeat Magazine

Howard won the Jazz Times Magazine 2010 Readers Poll “Miscellaneous Instrument”
(tied with Bela Fleck and Toots Thielemans)

“…producer/engineer Nick Eipers knew early on he wanted to feature the spontaneous genius of Levy. ‘Tonight and Tomorrow’ weighs in with a stellar trio of drummer Ernie Adams and bassist Larry Gray… – Michael Jackson, Downbeat Magazine

“Howard Levy has almost single-handedly developed the full jazz potential of the diatonic harmonica… a marvelous piano-trio album featuring Levy’s harmonica… Although he cites McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock as influences, Levy the pianist has a sunnier, more ebullient style than either, enlivened by an unfailing upward momentum… The trio interplay is first-rate throughout, as are the arrangements.”
– George Kanzler, Jazz Times Magazine

“If he were only an amazing pianist, he would be in demand constantly; if he were only a trailblazing harmonica player, he would likely be in demand nearly as much. But Howard Levy is both… the tune to check out is “Sandi”, on which Levy does the seemingly impossible – he plays harmonica and piano simultaneously…‘Tonight and Tomorrow’ is yet another knockout release from Howard Levy, and from Chicago Sessions as well.”
– Paul Abella, Chicago Jazz Magazine

“His McCoy Tyner-like piano work on the compelling ‘Howard’s F# Blues’ that opens the album announces that he is a force to be reckoned with on the keys. Of course, the harp work is stellar – breathtaking at times (listen to him bend the note upward like he is bending a guitar string on his solo on ‘Chorinho’)… Gray is one of the most melodic and tasteful bass players in the business, while Adams may be the busiest and most in-demand drummer in town, and the recording lovingly captures every nuance clearly. Levy himself is playing better than ever, and on ‘Tonight and Tomorrow’, Levy and co-producer Nick Eipers have recorded one of Chicago’s most important jazz artists in the prime of his career.”
– Brad Walseth, JazzChicago.net

“With such a diverse and extensive history, it would be almost impossible for Levy to sum his career up on one disc, but ‘Tonight and Tomorrow’ comes as close as possible to doing just that… Levy’s harmonica playing is startlingly fluid and full of the technical prowess that would be expected from the genre’s top saxophonists, not from an instrument that is often associated with campfire cowboys and Mississippi bluesmen…These three musicians have come together to prove, once again, that it’s not necessary to only look to New York for the best in American jazz.”
– Matthew Warnock, AllAboutJazz.com

“Larry Gray and Ernie Adams are ideal allies to complement Levy’s boundless range. As a pianist, his relationship with the instrument is so intimate and playful… Musically, it’s a feast. The Latin influences are there in the lovely ‘Slanted Samba’, ‘Chorinho’, and ‘Aha’; the blues are given an elegant nod in the upbeat ‘Howard’s F# Blues’; and the power of improvisation flows throughout ‘Triosity’.”
– Layla Macoran, JazzInsideNY Magazine

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Howard Levy: Reinventing the Harmonica – NPR Feature by David Schulman from 2009.  Listen here.

 

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Review: Howard Levy takes the harmonica to unexpected places

Howard Reich Arts critic, Chicago Tribune

9:17 a.m. CDT, August 3, 2013

The harmonica simply was not designed to play music that flies at the velocity that Howard Levy routinely attained Friday night at the Green Mill Jazz Club.

Yet there he was before a capacity audience, throwing off ideas at outrageous speeds and with a degree of clarity, precision and tonal beauty that one might not have thought possible.

Even apart from Levy’s technical prowess, though, it was the musicality and stylistic breadth of his work that left the deepest impression. Combine his mastery of the instrument with the depth of his musicianship, and you begin to understand why Chicagoan Levy is widely regarded as the world’s leading jazz harmonica virtuoso.

 

For this two-night engagement, Levy led his Acoustic Express band, an unusual quartet staffed by guitarists Chris Siebold and Pat Fleming plus bassist Larry Kohut. The instrumentation may be unconventional, but its soft-spoken nature gives the harmonica the sonic prominence it does not usually enjoy and allows Levy’s work to be heard at its fullest. Levy, to no one’s surprise, took full advantage of this setting.

He opened the evening with a rhapsodic, Hebraic solo evoking cantorial and klezmer traditions and setting the stage for the vintage “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.” But this was a far cry from the famous Andrews Sisters version, Levy transforming the tune with fleet, mercurial lines set against a chugging rhythmic backdrop. When Levy and guitarist Siebold began “trading fours,” as jazz musicians call the process of exchanging four-bar solos, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” became a vehicle for hyperactive jazz improvisation.

For all his notoriety, Jelly Roll Morton to this day does not receive the respect or attention he deserves, but a few top musicians – including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pianist Marcus Roberts – have worked for decades to change that situation. So has Levy, and he furthered the cause with an evocative version of Morton’s “Sidewalk Blues.” Morton likely never heard the piece played by these instruments, but Levy’s combination of expressive melodic lines and easygoing virtuosity echoed Morton’s approach to the piano. Acoustic Express rekindled the sensibilities of 1920s jazz, at least as far as we’ve been able to understand them from historical recordings.

When Levy sat down at the piano to accompany himself in Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages,” it was not a stunt, though some listeners may have admired it as such. Close your eyes, and it really wouldn’t matter if two musicians or one were handling both instruments. More important was the exquisite shape of the single-note melodic lines Levy articulated in unison on harmonica and piano. In other passages, the piano part answered the harmonica, two instruments riffing in the consciousness of a single musician.

Each subsequent piece took Levy and Acoustic Express into another stylistic realm, from the exotic Macedonian scales and time signature of “Jovano Jovanke” to the Brazilian undulations of “Carinhoso” to solo excerpts of Levy’s Concerto for Diatonic Harmonica and Orchestra. If “Howard’s Rag” more closely suggested a hoedown, the misnomer did not diminish the joyous, bluegrass-tinged, all-American high spirits of Levy’s work.

He’s one of a kind.

 

 

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Trio Globo at All Saints’ Church

by Lyn Bronson, Peninsula Reviews
January 26, 2013

Trio Globo 1Eugene Friessen & Howard Levy 

As I sat down in All Saints’ Church last night to hear Trio Globo, I felt a bit disoriented. Looking at the printed program it was obvious I wasn’t going to be hearing any instantly recognizable music. Todd Samra, Music Director at All Saints’ Church, introduced the musicians by saying that what we were about to hear was not jazz, not classical, not fusion (whatever that is), and that it was going to be largely improvised and reflect influences from many cultures spanning six continents.

To my classically trained ear it seemed like a long road trip to terra incognita, in which I, apparently, was to be a captive stranger. That was before the musicians broke the silence and unleashed the first notes of what was to become a magical journey into a world of extraordinary sounds and bewitching rhythmic vitality. From then on it became clear that we were in the presence of three extraordinary musicians, each one a total master of his own craft.

Hearing Howard Levy play the harmonica is an experience you are not likely to forget. It turns out that he is largely self-taught, and like Paganini, refused to accept the limitations (and they are many) of his instrument. His technical mastery is dazzling, and as you hear his incredible control of dynamic shading from pianissimo to fortissimo, his chromatic scales, his glissandos, his uncanny ability to play complicated contrapuntal two and three-voice Bach works, you just marvel at the never ending work it must have taken to achieve such mastery.

Incidentally, I was wondering throughout this concert whether there is a workshop somewhere in Germany’s Black Forest where master craftsman were creating fabulously expensive, custom-made concert harmonicas for Mr. Levy. Apparently there are not, for there are no Stradivarius-type, museum-quality harmonicas being made. At the reception following the concert, Levy pulled out of his picket a humble three-inch wide Hohner “Blues Harp” harmonica, costing $35 on Amazon.com (discounted to $25 at Walmart and Target), and proceeded to play for us complicated melodies and chromatic scales. This “Blues Harp,” essentially a toy any kid would be delighted to find in his Christmas stocking, is not a chromatic harmonica with a slide that easily permits chromatics, and we learned that Levy is apparently the first musician who mastered the skill of playing chromatics on an instrument not designed for it.

Cellist Eugene Frissen, another classically trained musician like Levy spun his own brand of magic during the concert. At times he bowed his way through gorgeous melodies, and at other times he placed the cello in his lap and strummed it like a guitar. He also slapped and tickled it into producing a wide variety of sounds not associated with conventional cello playing.

Trio Globo 2

Glen Velez

The third member of the trio, percussionist Glen Velez, was another magic maker, who could make music on a wide variety of instruments and dazzled us at one point creating a totally absorbing five-minute solo on a simple tambourin. You really had to see it and hear it to believe it.

Perhaps Trio Globo ought to be renamed Quartetto Globo, because Mr. Levy is really two musicians — he is a wizard on the harmonica and he plays a mean piano. His constant switching back and forth from one instrument to the other was a delight both to the eye and the ear. His classical training in piano was revealed by the ease with which his hands sped all over the keys with the most beautiful economy of motion. He made it all look easy.

About the music heard during this concert, all of it was composed and arranged by members of the trio. Some of it was jazz and some of it was inspired by middle eastern and ancient music (one of their pieces was so middle eastern, I was all ready for the belly dancers to come out wiggling and waggling).

It was totally involving, and often surprising. During one piece we suddenly became aware that we were hearing Levy playing the melody (and the inner voices) of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” We also heard Levy play a Bourré from a Bach Suite, again with two parts and sometimes three parts somehow being produced on the humble mouth organ.

The musicians received a warm standing ovation at the end of the concert. We had an opportunity to meet them at the lavish reception in Grant Hall and learned what charming and unpretentious people these fine musicians are.

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