Grant Levin
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Grant Levin


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The best kept secret in music


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The Bust - Beezwax BW2878A


Feeling a bit camera shy


Liner Notes, The Bust

As I write these words, Grant Levin’s new CD, The Bust, plays in the background. And as I pause to listen, I’m filled with a deep sense of both admiration and pride. My admiration stems from the consistently high level of playing throughout this remarkable series of performances. The pride wells up because I once served as Grant’s piano teacher. He took lessons with me for a few years during his studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. Although UNR (as folks around Reno call their university) is not yet as well known as Berklee or North Texas, it boasts a lively and rapidly growing jazz studies program, home to a number of highly skilled performers and composers.

Grant’s ever widening base of admirers might find it interesting to know that even as a freshman Grant stood out among UNR’s impressive jazz community. He simply did not play like the typical first-year college music student. For starters, he had studied jazz and classical piano since age 5 and had already appeared in a variety of professional contexts around his native Northern California. Moreover, it became readily apparent that he possessed a remarkable degree of that very elusive, innate quality called "talent" (and that is not a word I use lightly). Thus he was able to absorb and put into use more quickly than others the various musical concepts he encountered.

So when I say that I was Grant’s "teacher," it was always more a matter of presenting him with some musical challenge to overcome than showing him how to, say, voice a particular chord. This is not to suggest that he didn’t work on his craft. He put in countless hours of practicing to achieve the seeming effortlessness that one hears in this recording. But Grant always had a knack for working out the nuts and bolts aspects of jazz before I ever needed to articulate those things to him.

So now Grant Levin is a professional musician, one of the most engaging pianists in this corner of the world. Still a young man - 22 years old at the time I write these notes - Grant displays a grace and apparent ease at the instrument that few pianists achieve only much later in their lives, if ever. His tone is always clear and clean, his attack sure, but never forced. He has developed a distinctive voice as a player and composer. In a word, Grant has arrived. All of which brings me to the recording you hold in your hands.

It’s obvious from the outset of The Bust that Grant and his sidemen, drummer Rufus Haeriti and bass veteran Hans Halt, can all play their instruments. But more impressive is the fact that these three play as a group. They swing as a group. And they swing not only in the sense of the particular kind of rhythmic feels they favor, but also in the way each musician seems to anticipate the others’ moves, choosing those notes, sounds, and gestures that will best contribute to the overall sound and feel of each tune.

Furthermore, these particular instrumentalists seem perfectly suited to the piano trio format on display here. The trio setting allows for an optimal balance between group interplay and individual freedom. And each of these musicians demonstrates a thorough understanding of the musical possibilities for this format, as well as an abiding admiration for the long, distinguished tradition of it. One hears echoes of the group’s forebears: the great trios led by Chick Corea, Oscar Peterson, and, above all, Bill Evans.

Yet, while Grant, Rufus, and Hans recognize the contributions of those players who had come before them, their efforts are no mere slavish recycling of the past. Check out their reworking of the themes on "Inner Urge" and "Steeplechase," for instance. Here, as elsewhere on the disc, the musicians tip their collective hat to the legacy handed down to them, but - and this is what distinguishes this group from the "neo traditionalists" so widely touted a few years ago - they aren’t held back by an obsequious reverence for "the masters."

Grant and his trio don’t simply play this history-rich material; they play with it. And in this way they participate in the jazz tradition more actively than any self-conscious "repertory" jazz ensemble ever could. I’m proud of my association with Grant Levin and these other musicians. Check out The Bust and you’ll share with me that deep sense of admiration I also feel.

David Ake
February 25, 2003

David Ake, Assistant Professor and Director of Jazz Studies, University of Nevada, Reno, is a jazz pianist and composer, and author of the book Jazz Cultures.