Ted Levine with Peter Madsen: Night Sounds

Night Sounds (Playscape) is saxophonist/clarinetist Ted Levine’s second album with Peter Madsen on piano, and this time it’s just the two of them, with much of their music based on improvised interaction between them. Only five of the 13 tracks are based on compositions, while the rest depend entirely on spontaneous interplay, the duo’s seeming ability to anticipate each other’s every move lending form and structure to the pieces. With little emphasis much of the time on conventional jazz rhythmic feeling or phrasing, a considerable amount of the album could pass for a contemporary classical chamber music recital, even though the evenly executed runs and arpeggios, stop-and-go rhythms and pointillistic phrases might be punctuated with honks or other nonidiomatic woodwind or piano sounds. At times, however, the music comes across as pure jazz. “Picasso’s Blue(s) Period,” with its “Freedom Jazz Dance”-like, skip-based melody and jaunty rhythmic feel, serves as a good example. Since a variety of tempos and moods are employed and Levine plays both alto and soprano saxophones as well as bass clarinet, the potential for sameness in the duo format is avoided. Indeed, due to the technical and artistic authority of its performers, the album engages the listener from start to finish.