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Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge: Hey, It’s Me

The dictionary defines a “tinge” as a mere trace of added color. Mark Levine, who quotes Jelly Roll Morton’s dictum that a “Spanish tinge was necessary in jazz, ” goes well beyond Webster and Morton in both of these recordings. His conception is to saturate an otherwise straightahead trio-Levine, piano; Peter Barshay, bass; Paul van Wageningen, drums-with all the Afro-Cuban and salsafied ammunition that percussionist Michael Spiro can muster. For all practical purposes, these two CDs seem to be one long session: the same personnel are involved (there is one addition for one track on Serengeti) and the successive serial numbers, 001 and 002, bear dates of 2000 and 2001, respectively; the latter seems to pick up where the former left off. Why tamper with a successful formula?

The only variation on that formula is that Hey, It’s Me contains more standards. Among them, “You and the Night and the Music ” has a lighter-than-air feel to it, floating over a wave of triplets; “My One and Only Love ” finds a new identity away from the usual ballad format, with Levine’s intense montuno turning it into a Latin monster. Don’t get the impression that every track is heavily spiced. The two tunes by Mulgrew Miller (Levine’s notes underscore his admiration for his fellow pianist) are tastefully flavored. It’s refreshing to hear the Rollins’ line “Airegin ” in a Latin declension.

Serengeti is filled with compatible lines by fellow jazzoids-McCoy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and Stanley Turrentine. Not surprisingly, Harry Warren’s chestnut “You’re My Everything” does not lend itself to Latin translation. Levine’s muscular montuno propels “Cha Cha Cha Para Mi Alma. ” “Mr. Natural ” intriguingly alternates between hard Latin in 4/4 and a smooth, laid-back waltz, but Turrentine’s “Sugar” steals the show, thanks to more mixed meters, from pure Latin 6/8 to a down, dirty, straightahead 4/4. And as he does during both sessions, Spiro also steals the show, especially when he solos over Levine’s montunos. Whether it’s a tinge or a binge, Levine has succeeded eloquently.

Originally Published