Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Give Howard Levy an extra hand

Howard Levy is at Natasha's Friday with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet.
Howard Levy is at Natasha's Friday with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet.

Howard Levy with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet

8:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade. $22. (859) 259-2754.

The music of Howard Levy has long been wonderfully unclassifiable, whether it flows from the rich but often intricate melodies he creates on keyboards or the worldly yet beautifully homey sounds he emits from the handheld instrument he has essentially redefined over the past four decades: the diatonic harmonica.

Much of the Brooklyn-born, Chicago-bred composer, bandleader, educator and instrumentalist's fanbase stems from the fusion music he has created as a founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. But Levy's harmonica technique, which allows him to reach even missing chromatic notes on the diatonic harmonica, stems back to the 1970s. He worked with a number of multi-stylistic artists — most notably, the Cuban saxophonist/clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera — before connecting with banjo innovator Bela Fleck to form the Flecktones in 1988. He played on the band's first three albums and toured relentlessly before resuming his solo career full time in 1993.

Since then, the scope of Levy's musical pursuits has expanded even further. He has composed two harmonica concertos, performed on numerous film soundtracks and has extended his long list of studio credits, which now includes albums by such disparate artists as Donald Fagen, Bobby McFerrin and Dolly Parton.

His own projects are equally far reaching. Levy continues to serve as musical director for the Latin jazz ensemble Chevere de Chicago, the world music-inclined Trio Globo, and the more jazz directed Acoustic Express. He also plays in several collaborative settings, including a duo with guitarist Chris Siebold that brought the harmonica stylist back to Natasha's in August 2013.

Once again, the attention always mounts whenever Levy and Fleck team up. A 2011 reunion album by the original Flecktones lineup, Rocket Science, resulted in a 130-date tour and Grammys for the Fleck and Levy composition Life in Eleven.

Levy's newest album is a trio recording co-credited to double bassist Larry Gray and drummer (and son) Miles Levy called First Takes. As the title implies, the record's 11 songs are improvisational and predominantly jazz-rooted jams.

Speaking of jazz, that will be the genre that hosts Levy's return performance Friday night at Natasha's. More precisely, it will be the Osland/Dailey Jazztet (Miles Osland, Raleigh Dailey, Danny Cecil and Paul Deathridge), the longstanding Lexington group that was co-billed with Levy at the venue for a 2009 performance. As was the case with that show, Levy will play a solo set of instrumentals highlighting his keyboard and harmonica dexterity before joining the Jazztet as a featured soloist.

"The thing about the harmonica is that it's invisible to the player and to the person watching the player because there are no fingers involved," Levy told me prior to his 2013 Natasha's show. "You can't see anybody pushing keys or moving their fingers or anything. That's the hardest thing about learning how to play it, too. You can't see it. You have to spend a lot of time getting a mental picture of the instrument. It's different from any other instrument in that respect."

For ticket information on Friday night's concert, go to Beetnik.com.

Frost warning

Australian-Icelandic electronic music pioneer Ben Frost will headline an intriguing bill of experimental music on Monday at the Downtown Arts Center, 141 East Main Street.

Born in Melbourne but based in Reykjavik since 2005, Frost has been composing minimalist, electronic-style music for dance and film projects over the past 15 years. But the notes to his 2014 album AURORA describe his most recent work as "a new world composed of fiercely synthetic shapes and galactic interference, pummeling skins and pure metals."

Montreal avant garde saxophonist Colin Stetson, who has collaborated with Bon Iver and Arcade Fire, as well as fellow sax power hitter (and frequent Lexington guest through numerous Outside the Spotlight performances) Mats Gustafsson is also on this WRFL-FM sponsored bill.

Lexington "techno-electro" stylist Eric Lanham will open the evening (8 p.m., $7). For more information, call (859) 257-4636 or go to Wrfl.fm.

Canned grooves

The Kentucky groove collective Tin Can Buddha is back in action Friday night at the Grand Theatre, 308 St. Clair Street, in Frankfort, with a new album of blues, rock, soul and jazz grooves and a few extra hands for the evening.

Core members Rodney Hatfield (harmonica and vocals), Lee Carroll (keyboards) and Mitch Ivanoff (guitar) will celebrate the release of the band's new Mumbo Jumbo album with help from guitarist Nick Stump (Hatfield's running buddy for many years in the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars), honky-tonk soul songstress Coralee (whose popular Townies band includes Carroll), veteran Lexington jazz-and-more singer Gail Wynters and guitarist-vocalist Mark Jones (7:30 p.m., $15-$30).

Call (502) 352-7469 or go to Grandtheatrefrankfort.org.

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