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Lou Levy: Lunarcy

Lou Levy is not the only major jazz performer shunned by US record companies, but few musicians of his prominence and importance have less music on domestic labels. While developing players of half Levy’s age and artistry have contracts, Columbia, Capitol, RCA and Warner Bros., not to mention companies that specialize in jazz, ignore this profound pianist whose work has continually deepened. So, the youth marketing phenomenon continues rampant, white guys over 50 are out, and life isn’t fair. What else is new in the music business?

Fortunately for those willing to search them out and pay the price for quality imports, these four CDs from France provide a broad picture of Levy’s talent. All were recorded in the first half of the 1990s. Lunarcy and Ya Know are quartet albums of dramatically different textures. Lunarcy has a routine configuration, rhythm section plus tenor saxophone. Its music is anything but routine. Levy, saxophonist Pete Christlieb, bassist Eric Von Essen and drummer Ralph Penland play music of extraordinary harmonic textures. The title tune grew out of “How High The Moon.” The benevolent spirit of the old bop anthem hovers over the performance, but Levy’s quirky melody line and crafty changes make this an altogether new experience. In “Pathetique” he adapts snatches of Tchaikovsky and Harold Arlen and transmutes them into a piece as intricate as “Giant Steps.” Levy works his conceptual magic on seven other tunes including the masterpieces “Zoot” by Johnny Mandel and “Ah Moore” by Al Cohn. The integration of the quartet is absolute. Christlieb, full of power and pizazz, matches Levy’s inventiveness as an improviser.

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