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Ray Levier: Ray’s Way

Lots of young musicians go out and get some established people to play on their debut recordings as leaders. Ray LeVier got strong ones: Joe Locke on vibes, either John Abercrombie or Mike Stern on guitar, Dave Binney on alto saxophone and Francois Moutin on bass. But very few debut albums create such tight, committed, synergistic ensembles. This band should go on tour. The only question would be which guitarist to bring. Abercrombie, who extends the implications of tracks like LeVier’s “Manahatta” and his own “Ralph’s Piano Waltz” with solos like starry nights? Or Stern, whose potential to incite the masses on wailing tracks like “You Never Know” might be this band’s best chance to play the Obama Inaugural in 2013?

LeVier has spent 10 years in the band of singer-songwriter KJ Denhert, where he is called upon to lay down hard grooves for her “urban folk/jazz.” Here he hints at some of that nasty funk on his résumé, even as he creates diverse, sophisticated, subtle forms of energy. On Moutin’s “Echoing,” Locke’s vibes and Abercrombie’s guitar intertwine ideas as they float on the updrafts created by Moutin’s bass and LeVier’s brushes.

This band works because it benefits from the contrasting personalities of its members. Binney’s edginess, Abercrombie’s spaciousness, Stern’s earthiness, Locke’s capacity to enrich and define an ensemble texture-all are reconciled here into a complex, distinctive, appealing group sound. The best example of how well they can all serve a single concept is LeVier’s “Song for Nury.” It is an avowal of devotion carried mostly by Binney’s fervent, piercing cries, but also taken up and elaborated and deepened by Locke and Abercrombie in turn.

Originally Published