Mark Levine is a jazz maverick whose musical resumé reads like a jazz fan's dream festival. Called "one of the truly fine pianists of our time" (Art Lande), Mark shows on this album that beyond his work with Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo or Poncho Sanchez, he has earned his place in Latin Jazz history. In the early 1960's, Mark attended Boston University, but spent more time on the Berklee School of Music campus, hanging around clubs like the Jazz Workshop since playing jazz in the practice rooms at BU was forbidden. He went on to study with legendary pianist Jaki Byard, and rounded out his practical education on gigs with Woody Shaw, Eddie Henderson, David Liebman and Blue Mitchell. Playing with Mongo Santamaria, Willie Bobo and Cal Tjader sparked his interest in Latin Jazz. A San Francisco Bay Area resident for many years, Mark is highly revered, whether as guru to young jazz disciples who cling to the Jazz Piano Book he penned in 1990 (referred to by Jazz Pianists as the "bible"), composer to artists like Tito Puente and Nuyorican Soul, or simply as jazz pianist extraordinaire to luminaries like Carmen McCrae or Joe Henderson.
Dizzy Gillespie once said that what he played was rhythm first and from there he filled out the rhythm with pitches. In that vein, there is a ferocious groove underlying everything Mark plays, though his lines are fluid and his harmonies complex. Hes a master at block chord solos, revamping harmonies at a chorus notice, and his unique montuno voicings may well be on their way to becoming signature "Levine montunos." On "Hey, Its Me Youre Talking To," he releases flurries of variations effortlessly and choosing to land softly or come back with definitive rhythmic punches. At moments like the theme for "Lils Paradise" he is reflective and poignant; at others, such as the cooking rendition of "My One & Only Love," dangerously swinging.
Mark teams up with a strong assemblage of the San Francisco Bay Areas finest Latin and jazz musicians: Michael Spiro on percussion, Peter Barshay on bass and Paul van Wageningen on drums. These gentleman have spent decades pushing the Latin Jazz envelope by digging deeper into the Afro- Cuban roots and building upon the foundations of West Coast Latin Jazz. Together, it is their remarkable collective musical instinct and intricate interplay that engages their spirits, resulting in this exceptional session. Unlike a stellar live performance that vanishes into the space and time continuum, the excitement of this album is ours to keep and guaranteed to become a classic in the annals of small group Latin Jazz.