His latest disc, Uncertain Path - featuring his trio with bassist Amy Shook and drummer Frank Russo, and recorded on his own Symbol System label - is full of surprises, joys, wicked licks and delightful rhythms. Levit takes great pleasure in pretty melodies and post-bop abstraction, á la John Scofield and early Mike Stern, and both golden-hued lyricism and neon-flashing grittiness are in ample evidence here.
But Levit often transitions abruptly from one to the other, and when he mixes both textures on a single track, the ripping guitar sounds tagged on, as on his solo on Bob Marley’s "Waiting in Vain" or Wayne Shorter’s "Footsteps." One gets the impression that Levit wants to be the quintessential jazz man, blowing cool and breathless on the ballads, but also opening his head up to let all his ideas out at once. But something’s missing: He’s got licks and chops galore, that’s for sure, but often he seems young, green, impetuous, too eager to fly higher than is prudent. You’ve sort of got respect that, but at the same time, the music falls short of greatness as a result.
Still, there’s much to recommend Uncertain Path: The opening tack, "Singularity," is a smoking opening that introduces Shook and Russo as great musicians in their own right; Levit’s sound on the Sting number, "Fields of Gold," has a gorgeous, umber tone; "Ballad #3" sails easily on a gentle breeze, with one of the best solos on the disc performed by Shook; and "M-Drive" has great funkiness to it.
Interestingly, a second 2004 release by Levit arrived in the same envelope with Uncertain Path. Titled Anatomy of Ecstasy (Symbol System 0402) it contains two discs of "electronic soundscapes" - 40 rhythm tracks in all, with some often fun and even funny effects laid over them. The disc is a little too whacked to be considered "ambient," and some of the tunes paint audio pictures of places I can’t say I’d really like to visit (e.g. the creepy, freaky "Charnel Grounds"), but might be Levit’s true métier.