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Off & On - The Music of Moacir Santos

Mark Levine - The Music of Moacir Santos - Off and On

by 'Chazro', Forums

I don't usually do Latin Jazz reviews anymore on JC unless I think the record's pretty extraordinary. Well mi bruddas, THIS is a very special record!

I first heard Moacir Santos in the 70's, I picked up his Blue Note record; 'Carnival Of The Spirits', just 'cause I dug the title, instrumentation, the cover art, and because it featured Harvey Mason who I'd just discovered with the Headhunters. The record remains a favorite to this day. A few years ago I'm hangin' at Tower and I read a review of his latest record; 'Ouro Negro', I put the mag down and luckily, Tower had it in stock! (man, I miss Tower!). This little walk down memory lane just illustrates how records USED to be bought back in the day! Moacir Santos was a genius brazilean composer whose music was apparently too advanced for Blue Note who, according to the liner notes, were looking for another Sergio Mendes but wound up with a genius instead. The recordings got no promotion. Mark Levine played piano on one of the 3 Blue Notes and also toured with him in the states. This record is a homage to his old boss and man, does he do him proud! I consider Levine and his band part of the West Coast Latin Jazz family. His drummer, Paul Van Wageningen, and master percussionist, Michael Spiro, are bandmates on a bunch of records I own and can tell you that this is a 1st class rhythm machine. The rest of the quintet is the very fine Mary Fettig on reeds, John Wiitala on bass, and Levine on piano. They are a prime example of a classic small Jazz combo that plays a TON of music! Basically what you have are genius Brazilean compositions played with an Afro-Cuban flavor/structure. The music's sophisticated, swings with grace, and the tunes are oh-so-memorable. I've read here and there that there's actually folks out there that don't care for percussion (say it ain't so!!), If you're one of 'em, this record ain't for you. But you're really missing out! Beautifully recorded and packaged. Recorded in 4/09 and released by 9/09, way to take care of business Mr. Levine! This suckas fresh outta the oven!!

Latin Jazz is having another banner year, but this one gets my vote for Latin Jazz record of the year!!

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All Music Guide review of Mark Levine & The Latin Tinge's CD "Off & On, the Music of Moacir Santos"

by Michael G. Nastos

Mark Levine's prowess at playing southern hemisphere-flavored jazz has been well established for several decades prior to forming his Latin Tinge ensemble, going back to his time with Brazilian-born composer Moacir Santos. He revisits the music of his former employer on this set of originals that does not necessarily adhere to samba and bossa nova styles. In fact, Levine and his energetic band of West Coast musicians are more than capable of adding their own personal voicings to a music that is often all too predictable. Mary Fettig's flute work is alluring on its own, but here she really places a personal stamp on the sounds with vibrant and credible performances. Levine himself sticks to the acoustic piano for this date, avoiding the tempting pyrotechnical clichés a Chick Corea might bring to the table, fortifying the music with tasteful and discreet chords or single lines. It's the rhythm section of percussionist Michael Spiro, bassist John Wiitala, and drummer Paul Van Wageningen that adds the spice and drive to this diverse set of delightful music. The three are also responsible for making the music interesting rhythmically, mixing up the funk in various meters during the vibrant title track, hopping up a 5/4 montuno on the penultimate Latin jazz line of "Kathy," and burning up the 4/4 clave beat of the Afro-Cuban tune "Haply Happy." Fettig's commanding but never overbearing flute is front and center for the hip and joyous cha cha "Nana," the singsongy "A Saudade Mata a Gente" digs into the funky Brazilian jazz of "April Child," and lays back on the sonata-styled pop tune "Jequie." The cohesion of this group is immediately noticeable even though Fettig will receive most of the attention. She also plays a little soprano sax or bass clarinet just to add other bright or stealth colors, respectively. It's a credit to Levine that the consistency of this music is more important than flourishing solo space or a power-laden, image-driven commercialism. Off & On comes easily recommended to those who enjoy the authenticity of tropical based music, removed from the tiring, synthesized, and overproduced work of much less-talented performers in this genre.

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Mark Levine & The Latin Tinge "Off & On"

by Jon Regan, Keyboard Magazine

Grammy Nominee and The Jazz Piano Book author Mark Levine’s Latest offering, Off & On, celebrates the songbook of revered Brazilian composer Moacir Santos, and features the same buoyant band interplay Levine has become know for.

From the simmering opener “Nanå,” (featuring impressive flute work By Mary Fettig), Levine displays a commanding technique, and an impressive harmonic conception – he steps easily between hard Bop, Horace Silver-esque piano fills, and convincing Latin montunos. And on “Kathy,” he grooves with the authenticity of a native Brazilian, Demonstrating that this potent pianst and author indeed practices what He preaches.

Off & On is worth putting on your music player of choice.

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Jazziz Magazine review of Mark Levine & The Latin Tinge's CD "Off & On, the Music of Moacir Santos"

by Mark Holston

Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge bring a characteristically laid-back Afro-Cuban slant to Off & On (Left Coast Clave), an exploration of compositions by the late Brazilian composer Moacir Santos. Levine considers Santos, with whom he worked in the 1970s, Brazil's greatest composer of the 20th century. And the pianist makes a credible case for his assertion as he and his quintet - featuring woodwind artist Mary Fettig - course fluidly through Santos gems such as "Nan" and "April Child" (a.k.a. "Maracatu"). While the musicians are as virtuosic as they are tasteful, Santos' catchy melodies, loaded with lush chords and tricky Afro-Brazilian rhythms, command most of the attention.

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CD Review: Mark Levine and The Latin Tinge

Audio Review - Click Here

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Mark Levine & the Latin Tinge
Off & On

By Rachel Swan, East Bay Express

Widely considered one of the best Brazilian composers of the 20th century, saxophonist Moacir Santos nonetheless saw few paper returns from the three albums he recorded for Blue Note in the 1970s. They were under-promoted and never reached a definite market; according to local pianist and former Santos collaborator Mark Levine, Blue Note ultimately lost the masters. It wasn't until shortly before his death in 2006 that Santos recorded two albums that garnered popular and critical recognition. Nonetheless, he remains indelibly etched in Brazil's music history. Santos' tunes are characterized by extravagant but immediately catchy rhythms and lean, singable melodies. They provide terrific material for a small combo with a tight percussion section. For Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge — a quintet featuring woodwinds expert Mary Fettig, percussionist Michael Spiro, drummer Paul van Wageningen, bassist John Wiitala, and Levine on piano — Santos' oeuvre is a perfect fit.

Levine gigged with Santos in the 1960s and played on the saxophonist's 1974 Blue Note record Saudade. Thus, the pianist shows a real understanding of Santos' music in Off & On, the new tribute he recorded with Latin Tinge over a two-day period in April. But for the popular opening tune "Naña," most of the tunes are rather obscure and apparently arranged the same way Santos originally played them. A mix of bossa novas and sambas, the songs usually require Spiro and Wageningen to play two completely autonomous rhythms in tandem, which makes for a busy percussion system. Levine anchors the band with careful, elegant comping, which sounds most imaginative on "Suk-Cha" — probably the best tune on the album. But the real sell here is Fettig, who can switch from bass clarinet to flute in the chorus of a single song, and manhandle both instruments. A lot of people would buy the album for that alone. (Left Coast Clave)

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Off & On - The Music of Moacir Santos
Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge

Left Coast Clave

Over the course of a long career, an artist can compose a substantial repertoire, leaving the world with a memorable body of work; when the musician’s compositions resonate with brilliance, they often inspire future generations to revisit their songbooks. A leap into a prolific composer’s songbook requires research and study, especially when they sit outside the realm of broad popular acceptance. The work pays off though, as younger generations keep the artist’s music alive through the continued performance of their pieces. It’s a tribute to the artist and a service to the greater music world; a musician’s interpretation of a composer’s songbook re-introduces us to the artist and educates the public. Their musical statements speak volumes about history, culture, and the composer’s place in the greater tradition. They run the risk of loosing their own identity within the repertoire, so they enter a balancing act between respecting the original work, paying tribute to the artist, and maintaining a personal identity. As a result, musicians need to thoughtfully construct their tributes in a way that reflects history and contemporary thought. Brazilian composer Moacir Santos built a vast and ingenious songbook during his career, that American audiences largely overlooked in favor of easily accessible material. Pianist Mark Levine and his group The Latin Tinge passionately dive into Santos’ work on Off & On - The Music of Moacir Santos, delivering an enthusiastic celebration of the creative potential behind Santos’ work.

Visiting Santos’ Most Beloved Pieces
Levine skillfully interprets some of Santos’ most beloved pieces while maintaining his own personal sound. Levine and bassist John Wiitala establish a syncopated vamp over a brisk cha cha cha groove on “Nana” while Mary Fettig delivers the extremely catchy melody on flute. Levine builds a clever statement fueled by a bluesy hard bop flavor and a playfully assertive rhythmic drive. A sharp abinico from drummer Paul van Wageningen transitions the group into an energetic improvisation from Fettig that inspires pronounced accents and fills from the rhythm section. A unison run from Levine, Wiitala, and Fettig takes the group into a brisk samba rhythm behind the melody on “Early Morning Love” which comes alive through Fettig’s understated flute work and Levine’s subtle interplay. The group relishes in the melody until Levine jumps into a smart improvisation that starts with pieces of the melody and grows into an engaging thought. Percussionist Michael Spiro pushes the band forward with solid pandiero work as Fettig flies into an uplifting improvisation full of strong melodic invention. Spiro holds a solid conga pattern as Fettig counts the band into a syncopated groove on “Off And On” before entering into a lush flute melody. A unison lick with Levine sends Fettig into a soaring solo, winding her flute through a broad texture with a forceful momentum. Levine creates contrast with a more melodic approach, building a lyrical idea that leads back to the main melody and a memorable solo from Spiro. Abrupt band hits frame Fettig’s melody on “April Child” until the rhythm section jumps into a funky stuttering groove behind her. Fettig plays around the unique rhythmic structure with angular lines that mix sharp syncopations and quick melodic runs. Levine focuses upon thematic development, supporting a steady stream of well-constructed lines with colorful harmonic variations. The group creates a smart blend between the familiar and the original on these tracks, presenting Santos’ recognizable melodies in a creative environment.

Building Arrangements Around Cuban Rhythms
The group digs into several Santos compositions with arrangements that utilize Cuban rhythms. A driving guaguanco provides a frenetic foundation for “Haply Happy” as Fettig constructs the melody through traded phrases with Levine and Wiitala. The harmony disappears as Fettig enters a conversation with the percussionists, cutting through the aggressive rhythmic structure with ferocious flurries of notes. After a brief return to the melody, the drummers take center stage as Spiro explodes into an exciting conga solo over van Wageningen’s driving rumba. The combination of Fettig’s gentle melodic treatment and Levine’s rich chordal support opens “Jequié” into an introspective mood. The band jumps into a double time feel on the bridge as Fettig and Levine trade phrases thoughtfully. The group returns to a bolero as Fettig restates the melody, creating a captivating moment that brings the composition’s beauty to the forefront. The rhythm section falls into a swaggering cha cha cha groove on “A Saudade Mata A Gente,” playing off a funky accompaniment and a simple yet bluesy melody. The rhythm section bursts into a frantic double time son montuno behind Fettig’s improvisation, sending her into an inspired statement fueled with melodic integrity and a contagious energy. The group makes a brief return to the cha cha cha before leaping back into double time behind Levine who applies his ample chops to flying bebop lines. These pieces find a connection to the group’s larger repertoire through the use of Cuban rhythms, but stay firmly rooted in Santos’ legacy with respectful versions of his compositions.

Keeping The Performance Fresh With Brazilian Rhythms
The group places several arrangements of Santos’ work in the context of Brazilian rhythms, but their smart arrangements and personal voices keeps the performance fresh. Levine briefly improvises over a steady baiao groove on “ Tomorrow Is Mine” before Fettig enters the subtly engaging melody on soprano sax. The rhythm section charges ahead with the addictive groove as Levine steps into his solo slowly, smartly building an attention grabbing solo over time. Fettig cuts through the rhythm section’s strong momentum with a sharp clear tone and powerful winding lines that push the band forward. Fettig doubles Wiitala’s lazy ostinato figure on bass clarinet as the group floats through a relaxed groove on “Suk-Cha” before jumping into a double time samba behind the main melody. As the rhythm section charges ahead, Wiitala displays a keen sense of melodic invention, making a solid statement with his rich deep tone. Fettig and Levine both follow with quick improvisations, gliding through the changes with lyrical improvisations that reflect the song’s character. The rhythm section establishes a funky and intensive groove on “Kathy” while Fettig floats a spacious melody over the group. Only van Wageningen and Spiro remain as Fettig begins her soprano sax solo, charging through the percussive setting with confidence and creativity. As Wiitala and Levine gradually rejoin the group, Fettig develops her improvisation into a cleverly constructed climax that reveals thoughtful artistry. Levine assertively grounds the groove with a steady rhythmic pattern behind Fettig’s lush flute melody on “What’s My Name.” Fettig and Levine both take turns improvising over the form, complementing each other with clever ideas that provide quick variations around the harmony. Fettig takes one last time through the form with an invested enthusiasm, leading the group back to the smart arrangement of the melody. Each of these songs allows the group to express their own identities while playing upon the rich connection between Santos and Brazilian music.

An Unforgettable Journey Through Santos’ Songbook
Levine and the Latin Tinge re-introduce Santos’ compositions with class and style on Off & On - The Music of Moacir Santos, sharing their deep appreciation for the musician and his work. The strength of the compositions stays intact throughout the album, with the memorable melodies rising to the surface and the rich harmonies providing strong improvisational contexts. For the uninitiated, this could be a serious step into Santos’ recorded works, and those familiar with Santos will find a positive connection to the original material. The album serves as a serious tribute, but at the same time, Levine breaks the shackles of imitation and exerts his vast creative skills. Each song shines with personal arrangements that simultaneously play upon the deep content of the compositions and the potential behind each rhythmic style. Levine’s playing exudes finesse and a vast musical knowledge base as he spins intelligent improvisations and inventive accompanying patterns. Fettig appears as a strong voice within the group, delivering thought provoking statements filled with jazz lines and thoughtful reflections upon the compositions. The band’s personality serves as the glue holding the album together, making the tribute more personal and exciting at every turn. Levine and the Latin Tinge remind us of the complexity and beauty of Santos’ work on Off & On - The Music of Moacir Santos, encouraging us to celebrate his work through their unforgettable musical journey through his songbook.

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The Sound of Moacir Santos: Brazilian Black Gold Rediscovered
It's taken far too long for musicians - and through them, the world's audiences - to recognize the substantial creative credentials of the late Brazilian composer Moacir Santos. Despite valiant efforts by Mario Adnet and Zé Nogueira, pioneers in rescuing Santos's music from obscurity, all his music is underrepresented in current recording catalogs.

In 1997, Jack O'Neil of Blue Jackel Records attempted to license Santos's Blue Note masters for reissue. Terms were agreed upon, but searching the Blue Note vaults to retrieve the masters proved futile; nothing could be found.

Fortunately, Off and On: The Music of Moacir Santos, a new recording by Mark Levine and his Afro-Caribbean ensemble, the Latin Tinge, contains a dozen compositions by Maestro Moacir and will surely be welcomed by connoisseurs of his music. Following the principle rather than the letter of Santos's pioneering, the ensemble adheres firmly to his approach.

"The arrangements themselves," says Levine, "are 95% what Moacir had for his two Blue Note releases, Maestro and Saudade. I gave no instructions other than the basic outlines to my percussionist, Michael Spiro, knowing full well that, although he is highly trained in Brazilian music, he would 'Cubanize' everything, as Cuban music is his first love."

Moacir Santos was born in the remote and arid interior of Pernambuco on July 26, 1926. With no radio or victrola, the rare opportunities he had to hear music were limited either to outdoor band concerts or performances given in the church. Imitating the musicians in the town's band by improvising on empty tin cans and bamboo flutes was his preferred form of play during his early childhood. And because he was present at all their rehearsals and his inclination for music was so strong, the musicians selected him to watch their instruments between concerts.

When they returned, it appeared that the boy had done more than just "watch," he had played all of their instruments. Later, Santos studied theory, harmony, counterpoint, and composition with Guerra Peixe, Hans Joachim Koellreutter (whose assistant he became), and Ernst Krenek, who was astounded by how quickly Santos had mastered Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.

During the forties and fifties, Santos worked extensively in clubs and on the radio with jazz bands and orchestras and was referred to as "fera do saxofone" (loosely translated as saxophone monster). In 1954, he was invited to direct the Orquestra da TV Record in São Paulo, and by 1956, Santos had become Ary Barroso's assistant artistic director for the record label Rozemblit, as well as the conductor of orchestras recording for Copacabana Discos.

In the sixties, his career reached a high point when he was invited to write soundtracks for film, whose plots were written or directed by notables like Jorge Amado, Sacha Gordine, Cacá Diegues, and Ruy Guerra. During this same period he was teaching a growing number of fledging musical luminaries, including Paulo Moura, Roberto Menescal, Nara Leão, Dori Caymmi, Carlos Lyra, Sérgio Mendes, Eumir Deodato, Oscar Castro Neves, Baden Powell, Do Um Romão, João Donato, Maurício Einhorn, Bola Sete, Alaide Costa, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim, and the members of the vocal groups Quarteto em Cy and Os Cariocas.

His LP Coisas (Things) was released in 1965 on the Forma label; however, all the charts and arrangements for the recording have been lost. Santos explained at the time that he wanted his works numerically cataloged like classical pieces, but as his music was considered popular and because using the word Opus, (meaning work of art, piece, creation, or composition) would have been inappropriate, he referred to his pieces as coisas. That same year, he wrote his first soundtrack for an American movie, Love in the Pacific, and the following year was nominated to The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

In 1967, Santos moved to the United States permanently; there he taught, worked with Henry Mancini, and met Horace Silver who urged the Blue Note label to record Santos's music. From quite humble beginnings and learning to play intuitively, Santos ripened into a gifted multi-instrumentalist, composer, conductor, arranger, professor, and celebrated renovator of Brazilian Popular Music, only to fall silent after the 1979 release of his album, interestingly titled, Opus 3 No 1.

Composer and pianist Mark Levine was introduced to Moacir Santos by a jazz trumpeter who played with Mongo Santamaria. Santos invited Levine to a rehearsal, then hired him for a tour. "We made one short road trip to Lake Tahoe and Reno," says Levine. "Reno was a disaster. They were expecting Brazil '66, and got all this strange, as the guy there put it, 'jungle music.' We were fired after two nights."

Next, Levine was hired to record Saudade, one of three classic albums Santos made for Blue Note. About the session, Levine remembers, "It was a pretty relaxed, but intense session. All the musicians knew we were recording something special. I also remember that producer Duke Pearson took a completely hands-off approach. I don't remember him making a single suggestion the entire two-day recording."

Off and On is an extension of those beginnings. "This project started as a result of a Moacir Santos tribute concert that Mark booked at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, California," says woodwind phenom Mary Fettig. "As he was preparing charts for the concert, he decided he wanted a standing group to play Moacir's music. Once the group was established, Mark was certain it was time to record."

Levine adds, "The Latin Tinge was an outgrowth of a previous band, Que Calor, which was too big to work with any kind of regularity; also I wanted a band that I could write for." Que Calor had been a collaborated effort with some of the Bay Area's finest musicians, including Ron Stallings, a talented woodwind player who died of cancer earlier this year and to whom Off and On is dedicated.

Levine took great care in his choice of companions, selecting players whose work complemented the sound and prerequisites of the music: indefatigable energy, stylistic versatility, and technical proficiency. Combining Afro-Cuban dance forms with instrumental jazz while maintaining the individuality of soloists' voices, the Latin Tinge achieves a complex rhythmic thrust, centered on bass player John Wiitala, percussionist Michael Spiro, and drummer Paul van Wageningen, who keep buoyant anything soloists Fettig and Levine care to try out. Their mastery of Santos's folkloric and Afro-Brazilian influenced harmonies and rhythms is never less than consummate.

Played with Afro-Cuban spicing, these interpretations have their own character - bold yet unexaggerated. Listen to the opening of "Nanã," a samba-jazz played here as a son montuno enhanced boogalu, and you'll literally feel the movement and be carried along with it. "Early Morning Love," usually played as a baião, is given a bossa nova/cha-cha treatment, and "Off and On," a20tune customarily featuring the Mojo groove developed by Santos, which some mistakenly consider a form of maracatu, is played here as a funk-propelled Afro-Cuban feel in 6/8. Says Levine, "I'm constantly struck by the universality of 6/8, found in most cultures of the world and virtually every African one from Morocco to Madagascar, and the almost complete absence of it in North American music."

"April Child" characterizes the universality of Santos's music: African with a lot of Brazilian spice. Originally played as a mojo-samba, the tune is played here as a maracatu laced with a semi-songo percussive pattern and is rich in rhythmic complexity. Levine's solo combines intriguing harmonies with a simple, yet insinuating rhythmic groove that swings with understated power an d panache. Optimistic and spirit-lifting, "Suk-Cha" is a bossa/cha-cha whose melodic, harmonic, and tonal contours are derived from the original, but with Fettig's bass clarinet doubling the opening and closing bass lines and her multi-tracked flute taking the place of the original bassoon part.

The sound which dominates "Kathy," played with an Afro-Cuban feel in 5/4, is Fettig's soprano sax, its raw, open-air voice stimulating and exciting the music. "Jequié" is a bolero/ballad with flute lines that are sinuous, full of subtle shifts of emphasis, and beautifully judged cadences. On the baião "Tomorrow is Mine," Fettig's soprano sax pacing is unusually acute, and her rhythmic interest a long way above average. Add to this a sincere interest in swinging and fashioning out some grittily attractive melodic improvisation, and you get an impressive presence. Fettig's sound on all her horns is superbly caught and a joy to hear.

"Haply Happy," played as a Cuban rumba and leaving no doubt that it could ever have sounded as substantial with an ordinary drummer and percussionist, is a mixture of dramatic off-center rhythmical shifts and oblique accentuations. Of all the tracks, it is the most Cuban. On "What's My Name," the group flirts with freedom, but maintains a firm grasp on ensemble principles, the reliable rhythm section keeping everything on an even keel. Levine stands out due to his unerring choice of chord voicings and his wonderfully weighted hands, but no one is below par, and the group works beautifully as a complete unit.

Attention is riveted from first note to last on "Luanne." Here the group delights in this samba's rhythmic vitality and bite, thanks largely to Paul van Wageningen's perceptive drumming. He and bass player John Wiitala combine effortlessly to push and stretch the soloists on "A S audade Mata a Gente," a bossa/cha-cha with a rumba double-time section. But what impresses most is hearing Levine, a pianist who allows lines to breath, whose piquancy is as much a matter of knowing what to omit as what to play, and Fettig, playing with moving commitment, laying bare her blisteringly hot virtuosity and adroit ensemble voice.

Levine and Fettig's solos throughout the disc are infectious, the melodic invention, always consistently inspired, the harmonic flavor, often pungent, bringing the ear constant diversity and stimulation. Rarely, if ever, have there been performances where soloist and ensemble connect with such unerring intuition, where the music is treated so naturally and all done with the most engaging reckless abandon. Everything in the molding of their phrases comes from within - you just can't program sensitivity of this kind.

A seminal figure in the world of music, Moacir Santos is richly deserving of a focused tribute such as this. His music, having passed through several phases, ranging from folkloric to atonal, calls for a highly virtuosic group of performers who can convincingly run the whole gamut; Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge seem on present evidence to be excellently qualified for the task. They really know this music and revel in it - in the best sense of the word. Incisive rhythm and folk-music influences are rarely absent from Santos's music and they abound on this CD. All the compositions are his, and the sound is archetypal Santos, whose good-natured presence can be felt throughout.

Levine says, "I love Moacir's music and have wanted to record a tribute album for 40 years. Moacir's work is practically unknown in the United States; my foremost goal is to raise awareness of his music. It's a shame that I didn't get to it while the Maestro was still alive."

Journalist, musician, and educator Bruce Gilman has served as music editor of Brazzil magazine, an online international publication based in Los Angeles, for more than a decade. During that time he has written scores of articles on the most influential Brazilian artists and genres, program notes for festivals in the United States and abroad, numerous CD liner notes, and an essay, "The Politics of Samba," that appeared in the Georgetown Journal.

He is the recipient of three government grants that allowed him to research traditional music in China, India, and Brazil. His articles on Brazilian music have been translated and published in Dutch, German, Portuguese, Serbian, and Spanish. You can reach him through his e-mail:
- Bruce Gilman,

The Latin Tinge - Serengeti

"There has been a wealth of fine Latin Jazz releases this year. The latest from Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge, Serengeti (Left Coast Clave), would have to rank among the best. The follow-up to 2000's Hey, It's Me includes the same quartet: noted educator and author Levine on piano, Michael Spiro on percussion, Peter Barshay on bass, and drummer Paul Van Wageningen. The album includes several Jazz standards, among those, "A Shade of Jade" and "Inner Urge" by Joe Henderson, with whom Levine was a pianist, Wayne Shorter's "Effendi", which features a wonderful solo by Barshay, Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", and the Wayne Shorter composition "Angola." "Angola" is a particularly satisfying track, with vocals by José Luiás Gomez, and the group's signature swinging piano and bass moving smoothly over irrestible Latin rhythms. Another fine example of this juxtaposition is "You're My Everything," which again bops over a torrid rhythmic undercurrent.

Cuba is represented by the opening track "Cha Cha Para Mi Alma," and by the fanciful, yet formal "Danzon Rio Sumida." The album also includes the Brazilian song "Assum Branco," and a bolero. Levine composed the title track "Serengeti," an uptempo and flowingly melodic tune that is an improvisational showcase for all members of the quartet. The recording of Serengeti is impeccable, perfectly capturing the deep resonance of the congas and big, bold tom-toms, the warmth of the bass, the subtleties of the hand percussion, and, despite the multitude of sounds, all of the harmonic nuances of the piano. Serengeti will not only delight Latin Jazz devotees, but lovers of piano jazz, too."
- Ed Trefzger, Yellow Dog Jazz Report

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"The rhythms of Latin music are some of the most challenging in jazz. To play this music convincingly, mastery of its syncopation, odd groupings, accents, grooves and poly-rhythms are absolutely required, and this is no easy task. On Serengeti Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge prove not only are they masters of the groove, but tasteful, soulful and inspired players as well.

"Cha Cha Cha Para Mi Alma", a charmingly simple number, starts this recording in a relaxed, swinging style. Mark Levine leads the quartet from the piano, and he leads it well. His economical, melodic solo and the crisp ensemble play within is a microcosm of the good taste and compositional approach the band utilizes throughout the date. These aren't "head tunes" that are vehicles for childish displays of chops, but rather separate pieces of music - small group arrangements (with intros, re-harmonizations, soli sections, vamps, and rhythmic hits) in the genre that feature the strengths of this talented and professional quartet. "A Shade of Jade", the classic Joe Henderson number, is four minutes and forty-two seconds of jazz excitement. Michael Spiro and Paul Van Wageningen get down! Swinging here, Afro-Cuban there and grooving hard throughout. "Inner Urge", the other Henderson chart on the session, sounds as if it was written for this group. Peter Barshay's bass is featured on a neat arrangement of the melody and in an extended solo, not to mention the intricate vamp section behind the percussion solos. The recording closes with a red-hot six-eight treatment of Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar" with fine, pointed solos from all the members of the ensemble. As is the case with all masterpieces, you're left wanting more - just a little bit more of this extraordinary music."
- Jim Josselyn,

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"Among the great technical challenges facing the improvising musician is the task of infusing original and/or standard pieces with one's personal touch. Arguably, it is this ability to realize new dimensions specific to musical content that separates the artist from the technician. This wonderful ensemble lead by the San Francisco Bay Area-based pianist Mark Levine realizes beautiful, unexplored dimensions in familiar pieces including "Effendi" , "Angola", "Sugar", "Shade of Jade", "Inner Urge", and "You're My Everything". Throughout the session, Levine consistently challenges us by introducing a stunning variety of rhythmic contrasts within definable harmonic schemes; the antithesis of the conventional Jazz "blowing" date. The exposed rhythmic figures in the title track, which is essentially a blues in C minor, are a case in point. This is another excellent session by one of the grand masters of Latin Jazz."
- James D. Armstrong, Jr.,

"Good music deserves to be heard, and although this band is relatively new, "Serengeti" is the second CD for Mark Levine & the Latin Tinge. Continuing the trend to combine Latin and Afro-Cuban rhythms in the be-bop genre, Levine and ensemble excel in giving new life to some standards (Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar" and "A Shade of Jade," "Inner Urge" by the late Joe Henderson) and also explore new compositions by Levine himself. The date hits the ground running with the opener "Cha Cha Cha Para Mi Alma" and doesn't look back. The veteran cast of players includes Peter Barshay, bass, Michael Spiro on percussion and Paul Van Wageningen, drums, and their combined efforts make the ensemble sound twice as large."
- Michael Handler,

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"Mark Levine will be familiar to many jazz musicians and fans as author of two widely used textbooks on jazz piano and theory, but the San Francisco-based pianist is also a fine practitioner of the jazz art in his own right, with a special leaning toward combining post-bop jazz and Latin music. His new disc, the second he has produced with this band, is a sparkling demonstration of his talents in that direction. His agile, harmonically rich piano rides across and through the intricate dancing rhythms conjured up by Michael Spiro on percussion, Paul van Wageningen on drums, and Peter Barshay on bass. They work out on a varied and well-chosen selection of music, taking in tunes by Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Stanley Turrentine and Wayne Shorter, alongside Cuban tunes, the Harry Warren standard "You're My Everything," and the pianist's own energized title track."
- Kenny Mathieson,

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"One of the milestones in Bay Area Latin jazz is the Cal Tjader Grammy-winning album La Onda Va Bien (Concord). It was the perfect combination of superb tunes with a groove, a melodic quality, and a virtuoso cast performing them that distinguished this 1980 production. Now pianist-composer Mark Levine, who was part of the ensemble on that landmark recording, presents the same qualitative edge on Serengeti, a collection of jazz standards, Afro-Cuban interpretations and original compositions.

Produced by Bud Spangler, this follow-up to Hey Its Me... captures the nuance of Levine's harmonic genius and amazing chops. In a largely quartet setting he glides over a variety of rhythms percolated by the deep-anchor double bass of Peter Barshay, trap drummer Paul Van Wageningen and percussionist Michael Spiro. They groove with impeccable swing, imaginative arrangements and excellent interplay. The music ranges from interpretations of contemporary Cuban jazz vehicles by Tony Martínez (Cha Cha Cha Para Mi Alma) and José Luis Cortes' Danzon Rio Sumida, to the addition of Afro-Cuban folklore, to Wayne Shorter's Angola, where abakuá chants by José Luis Gómez fortify a Cuban root with masterful batá tones from Spiro. Two tracks by the late Joe Henderson, a longtime colleague of Marks, and an ingenious twist to Stanley Turrentine's Sugar are all delightful overtures.

Cal Tjader was a master of reworking a standard into something unique and beautiful. Mark Levine & Latin Tinge are in that league. What Spangler and engineer Jeff Cressman have done on this album is capture an aura that will glow into the annals of jazz in the same light as Red Garland's Manteca, Erroll Garner's Mambo with Garner and yes, Tjader's La Onda Va Bien."
- Chuy Varela, Latin Beat

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"I am not sure how it could be possible for the great Mark Levine to top last year's release of "Hey it's me," but el maestro has. In this brand new and excellent recording, Mark and the Latin Tinge have picked up right where they left off. Mark's style and absolutely gorgeous sound has become his trademark. On this new effort Serengeti Mark keeps the groove going with some delicious material that will have you agreeing with me that Mark has created one great swinging style. This recording features a little from everywhere and is one great mix. Mark has always been involved with great recordings and the masters of Latin Jazz and he has now clearly defined his own sound with these 2 solo releases. I have always been an admirer of his work and can't fully express my enthusiasm over these 2 strong efforts. I mean having recorded with Luis Gasca, Mongo Santamaria, Cal Tjader and Poncho Sanchez that is history in itself.

I strongly believe that Serengeti will go down as one of the great Latin Jazz recordings of the year and will be talked about for many years to come. Listen to how smooth the session starts off with Mark's rendition of "Cha Cha Cha para mi Alma," written by Saxophonist, Tony Martinez. This tune really highlights Mark's smooth style and what an arrangement! Michael Spiro's congas keep the tune in a nice Latin groove and both Peter Barshay (bass) and Paul van Wageningen (Drums) keep the tune tight. Listen to Paul's solo and hear what he has to say.

The McCoy Tyner classic "Effendi" is next and what a delight. The playing on this great tune is solid and shows why Mark is among the best in the business. The band next visits a Wayne Shorter's "Angola," that features the talents of Jose Luis Gomez on vocals. This is a tasty number that has such a colorful and rich harmony. Mark next features one of his original tunes originally recorded with the great Cal Tjader, "Serengeti." Listen to the catchy opening and hear the percussion section open up. Mark then comes in with the tunes familiar phrase and kicks things in gear. Very nice updated version of this already classic tune.

A tune that has quickly become a favorite of mine is the pretty and delicate "Danzon Rio Sumida." written by Jose Luis Cortes of NG La Banda. Listen to the pretty melody and changes throughout. This is such a lovely tune and fits right in with the tight sound of this fine ensemble of players. This is what I like to call Latin Jazz to think by. For this new disc Mark wanted to include a few tunes from the book of the late great Joe Henderson. "A Shade of Jade" and "Inner Urge," 2 gorgeous tunes, are heard here and get the full Latin Tinge treatment. Mark and the Latin Tinge go a little Brazillian with their version of "Assum Branco," and this one is a nice one. Listen to the tasty piano vamp and listen to the group as they sway along with a cool groove. Another tune that will give you a great example of the Latin tinge sound is "Mr. Natural," written by Erik von Buchau. As its title suggests it is a "natural," and features a great melodic feel. There are tunes that will go down in history as good ones and there are those that are a step above the rest. A perfect example of this is the Osvaldo Farres, "Tres Palabras," done hear as a gorgeous Jazz/Bolero. Mark's soft playing is another perfect example of his virtuosity. Only Mr. Levine could play this emotional and sophisticated tune with such an attention to the character of the tune.

Closing out Serengeti is the flavorful "You're my everything." The band moves along and helps this swinging tune swing even more. It sounds like the band is having fun with this one and I agree, what a piece to Latinize and give new life too. Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar" is a Jazz Classic that is given a new Latin treatment here. Listen to the creative percussive intro and you will here this band get down to it. I like the way the band goes from straight ahead to Afro-Cuban. It gives this great tune a whole new identity. Listen as the percussion section close out the tune with a display of power and authenticity. Well what more can I say except go out and check this real-deal recording out. Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge boys have once again created a rhythmic and dynamically correct recording. This is some sweet sounding Latin Jazz."
- Erik M. Manqueros, Latin Style Magazine

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"I've had the last release from Mark Levine & the Latin Tinge (Hey It's Me, LCC001) in pretty steady rotation on my stereo for nearly a year now. It's always one of my first recommendations to friends when they ask me for advice on what music to buy. This in mind, it felt pretty good watching this new disc sliding into the machine for the first time. Then of course there's that moment of doubt between when the player drawer shuts and the music begins: What if I don't like it? What if it's not as good as the last one? Then it grooves straight into the first track, Cha Cha Cha Para Mi Alma, and I know: Oh yeah! This is going to be good… a little more than an hour later and it's still got me. Here's proof that there are still some things in life that live up to our expectations. Thank you, guys.

With Serengeti, Mark Levine & The Latin Tinge, all jazz and salsa veterans, take up where they left off with their last outing, filling up the spaces where jazz and Latin jazz overlap. Lines between styles and cultures disappear with Latin arrangements of traditional jazz numbers and non-traditional arrangements of Latin numbers. The result is really nice-a small, tight unit playing piano jazz over hot, tropical rhythms… not "in your face" but sure as hell not laid back.

You don't have to have to have the originals of these songs on hand for direct comparison to enjoy them. It's fun if you do: Certainly the highlights of Serengeti, for me were songs I was already familiar with, Wayne Shorter's Angola and Stanley Turrentine's Sugar. The cover of McCoy Tyner's Effendi, a song I didn't know, impressed me no less. Similarly, two Joe Henderson songs had me dancing on my chair and drumming along on the furniture.

It all made me curious so I did some legwork and went and found most of the original songs done by the original artists that were covered on Serengeti. This exercise impressed me even further, as many of these songs were not written for piano as the lead instrument, and surely not for Latin percussion. You'd never know that from listening to them though. It deserves mention also that the title track, the only Levine original represented, is really hot as well and a standout on the album. Like Hey It's Me, this is also a great sounding recording, really rich and natural. So I'll add Serengeti to my short list of personal recommendations. Again, well done, guys.
- MacGregor Rucker, Planetlatino

One Notch Up

"Levine's playing demonstrates what truly fine jazz piano playing is all about..."
- Philip Elwood, San Francisco Examiner

"An album to own and savor, ..stands within the circle of pianists who define what the instrument means in the world of jazz..."
- Jim Merod, Jazz Now Magazine

'The San Francisco scene is doing well, if pianist Mark Levine is a fair example."
- Jack Sohmer, Jazz Times

"You can feel the enthusiasm and love Levine and company have for the music..."
- Taylor McNeil, Bostonia Magazine

"...relaxed and personalized...presents the material with respectful clarity."
- Richard Simon, Bird Magazine

"...beautifully melodic and challenging trio release..."
- Robin Tolleson, Modern Drummer

"...thoroughly pleasant CD. ..flowing, well balanced music."
- Stuart Broomer, Cadence

Smiley & Me

.invigorating.. .thoughtful, ..daring..."
- Richard Palmer, Jazz Journal International

"...astonishingly broad, and remarkably well projected coverage of piano jazz era and styles."
- Philip Elwood, San Francisco Examiner

" is a pleasure to observe him through a variety of strategies."
- Max Harrison, Wire

".. .delightful.. .recommended!
- Richard Kamins, Cadence

"He puts himself into every note, but mainly he loves to play."
- Larry Kelp, Oakland Tribune

Keeper of the Flame

"The interplay and virtuosity of this ensemble is superb, and the musicianship shines and leaves you fanning yourself, saying “¡que calor!”
-Jesse "Chuy" Varela, Latin Beat

The Jazz Piano Book

"One of the best Jazz piano books I've ever seen. ..very easy to understand."

"I really like this book, because it covers all the bases. An invaluable resource for any keyboard player."

"This is one of the finest jazz instruction books on the market, written by an experienced, professional Jazz player. The book is practical and unpretentious, with lots of valuable information for the beginning, intermediate, and advanced improviser. The informality of his style cannot hide Mark's seriousness, attention to detail, and true love of Jazz piano."

"For anyone who is interested in acquiring the basics of contemporary jazz piano playing, this book is a must!"

"One of the most complete anthologies on Jazz piano in recent years. The research and attention to detail, the nuances and musical examples in each chapter are most refreshing, as are the photos. Stylistically covering artists from Teddy Wilson through Mulgrew Miller, in a way that has rarely been dealt with in other jazz piano literature."

"Mark Levine's The Jazz Piano Book is an incredibly thorough and yet personal look at the vast subject of jazz piano. The scholarly historical perspective combines with excellent practical examples of different styles and approaches to the keyboard. This book can be helpful to jazz musicians at all levels of development. Applause for one of the truly fine pianists of our time for putting his vast expertise, experience, and musicality into book form."

"This book comes closer than any other book I have yet come across, to giving the student an insight in the art, and needs, of playing modern Jazz piano. With the comprehensive exploration of all the basic techniques in common use that this book offers, along with inclusion of chapters on such important and often overlooked areas as camping and LatinJazz, this book deserves a place on every modern Jazz teacher's bookshelf."

"...this is a great book"

"...brilliant, comprehensive, exciting, and highly readable jazz piano method book. The Jazz Piano Book unlocks door after door of contemporary piano jazz sounds."

"Levine writes with passion and intimate knowledge of this vibrant, tangled musical tradition"

The Jazz Theory Book

"THE JAZZ THEORY BOOK is an amazing aid to understanding theory. Mark Levine writes with wonderful clarity and insight; better yet, his love and passion for music shines through."

"Mark has done it again and the music world is grateful. This book will help move the understanding of jazz theory and harmony into the 21st century."

"Just what the doctor ordered." "Insightful and very well thought out."

"As is the case with The Jazz Piano Book, Mark has done a completely thorough job, organizing the material in a very logical and readable manner -- highly recommended."

"Mark has done it again. The Jazz Theory Book has the clarity that most pedagogical books strive for. This book seems to have left no stone unturned in what one should know about the inner sanctum of jazz theory. The most fruitful information is generally derived from the source and that is the essence of this book. This book is connected to the music of our Jazz Masters. You can't get any better than that. Even the mature musician will find information here. Truly a magnificent accomplishment."

"FINALLY, a book on jazz theory and harmony that is very easy to understand yet still covers in great depth just about all of the basics anyone would need to know in order to get started or in the case of the more advanced player, wonderful information on areas such as playing "outside," reharmonization, keyboard fundamentals, etc. I wish I'd had this book 40 years ago. I think this is the book EVERY musician should own."

"Mark Levine has done it again, but this time he has created the most comprehensive and complete theory book I've ever seen. It is really user-friendly and is written in a clear and comfortable style. It has excellent musical examples pertinent to the text and is also very inspiring and gives a lot of practical advice you don't find in most theory books. Again, a great job! Highly recommended."

"The Jazz Theory Book" should be in every musician's library regardless of the level of their ability."

"Once again Mark Levine has made an invaluable contribution to the field of jazz textbooks. The Jazz Theory Book covers a wide range of very useful material. It is quite thorough and complete. Even better, Mark never loses sight of the fact that you use theory in order to play and compose music. Simply a great book!"

"This is the best book on jazz theory I have seen to date. I find the reference to famous solos in discography form very beneficial to all players young and old. The conversational tone of all the text gives the student the feeling of learning from a friend rather than an authoritarian figure! Great stuff."

'This could be the single finest music book of any type I've ever seen. It's certainly the best explanation of the mechanics of jazz, and the amazing depth of the content is matched by the care and accuracy of the presentation. An invaluable resource for all improvising musicians regardless of instrument."
- Bass Player Magazine

"Levine writes with passion and intimate knowledge of this vibrant, tangled musical tradition."
- Piano And Keyboard Magazine

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