Milcho Leviev

Blues for the Fisherman

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This date between Bulgarian piano genius and three fourths of Art Pepper's quartet (obviously, Pepper, bassist Tony Dumas, and drummer Carl Burnett had to leave pianist George Cables out of this one) is one of the hottest dates in either leader's career. Solidly based in post-bop blues, Latin rhythms, and modal figures, Blues for the Fisherman is perhaps one of the most underappreciated quartet dates of the 1980s. Recorded at Ronnie Scott's club in London in 1980, a year and a half before Pepper's death, the set is comprised of four long tunes, one by Leviev and three -- including the title track -- by Pepper, and is more a Pepper than Leviev date. No matter, however, since the musical dialogue this band cooks up is positively telepathic. Leviev, who is influenced equally by early Ramsey Lewis, Oscar Peterson, and Horace Silver, pulls out all the funky stops in his solos. He accents Pepper's melodies with punchy, choppy chords that allow the altoist's lines to drop right inside and add the necessary accent to make them soar. From the opener, with "Make a List, Make a Wish," which is equal parts bossa nova and "Wade in the Water" spiritual, Leviev is in the pocket, drawing Burnett and Dumas into the fire not as timekeepers but as funked-out fire breathers. Leviev's solo is pure 16th and 32nd notes cascading down around the rhythm section like bullets and wrapping around Pepper's own lines tightly and inseparably, harmonically altering space and time. Leviev's own lilting "Sad, A Little Bit" is graced with a slower, bluesy ballad feel, but its melody is taken from the ancient sounds of Bulgarian folk music. The way Pepper spins it out, weighing the traditional melody against the modern melodics of his brand of jazz, is remarkable, and Leviev's own harmonic invention is structurally astonishing. By the time the band members reach the final cut, the title track, they are literally dissembling the bandstand and in full flight, soaring with improvisational heights they probably hadn't thought possible. Pepper and Leviev are allowed the luxury of soloing together by a solid, rollicking rhythm section that pushes the time edges of each chorus just a bit more, until the entire structure opens up tonally and Pepper moves into his melody and through it as Leviev investigates its hidden notes in almost impossible triple times. There isn't a weak album on Mole Jazz, and this first one tells the story as to why that's true. This slab has great sound and an unmatchable performance, and is a magical listening experience.