Daniel Levin's Fuhuffah is, by all accounts, a true power-trio date, his blood-red double and triple stops, maddening glissandi and spiky exhortations supported by the whirlwind of drummer Gerald Cleaver and bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on six originals and a staggering rendition of the folk tune "Hangman." The title track finds him pulling out most of the stops (pun intended) in his technical palette, yet he's essentially a "traditional" player. Knocking wood and hushed microtones aren't particularly part of his language (as they sometimes are with Okkyung Lee or a player like Fred Lonberg-Holm). In saxophonist terms, he's the J.R. Monterose or Frank Gratkowski to, say, Lonberg-Holm's John Butcher, and listeners whose mettle is toward intense but lyrical lead instruments over rhythmic waves would do well with Fuhuffah. 

 - Clifford Allen


 
A lot of improvised music nowadays gains creative sustenance from the determination to challenge the boundaries of form and technique. Cellist Daniel Levin’s three previous recordings have harnessed these impulses, particularly by employing the poly-stylistic radical trumpeter Nate Wooley to expand what is basically an acoustic chamber quartet into quasi-electronic territory, but also by playing small group jazz without conventional rhythmic accompaniment. On this record he works with the relatively conventional trio with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten (The Thing, Atomic, School Days, Scorch Trio) on bass and Gerald Cleaver (Roscoe Mitchell, Matthew Shipp) on drums, and much of the time the music adheres more closely to a leader-over-rhythm section dynamic.

But the changes are a matter of degree, not kind. While the quartet might have sounded like it was swinging while one player melted metal in a cauldron, it still swung as vigorously as the trio does on "Metaphor". And just as the quartet embraced the inevitable label of chamber jazz (can any band with a cello escape it?) by playing intricate music full of nuanced interaction, the trio does something similar with their play of shading and overtones on the twin-bow excursion "Woods". So while the sounds and roles Levin works with here are a bit more conventional, the biggest differences between the groups lay more in the sounds themselves and the personalities of the players.

The action between two strings, especially when they’re both playing pizzicato, gives a sharper, more spiky feel to the trio’s music than did the blend of vibraphones and trumpet tones in the quartet. Cleaver’s drums likewise fill up the aural spectrum quite differently than do those instruments, with definition and shifting surfaces instead of melding tones, and he also fosters a more emphatic kinetic sense. And Flaten is a busier and less melodic bassist than the quartet’s Joe Morris, darting and elaborating where Morris would stay the course. Levin’s playing is as elegant and eloquent realizing the contours of an old folk tune as it is engaging the rest of the trio in splintered, freeform exchange.

The sound may be different, but Fuhuffah reveals the consistency of Levin’s concerns as a player and a shaper of group sound.
 
 - Bill Meyer


 
Fuhuffah is a departure of sorts for cellist Daniel Levin. His fourth recording as a leader dispenses with the chamber oriented instrumentation of his regular quartet (with bass, trumpet and vibraphone), in favor of a more conventional line-up. Accompanied by Norwegian bassist Ingebrigt Haker Flaten and drummer Gerald Cleaver, Levin leads his trio through six original and one traditional tune that ebb and flow with previously untapped vigor.

Encapsulating a broad range of dynamics, this session occasionally veers into the somber atmospheres of Levin's
quartet albums while pushing further into vivacious rhythmic territory. The propulsive bass patterns of Flaten and the lively percussive interjections of Cleaver provide ample forward momentum, yet there is no shortage of tonal subtlety.

Levin and Flaten utilize every string technique available to them, plucking and bowing with unfettered resolve, while Cleaver demonstrates sublime nuance, using both sticks and brushes with dexterous finesse. Like a warning shot, Levin opens the album's title track with a harsh descending motif that plummets into a thicket of dissonant intervals and jagged angles constructed from fervid double stops, bright pizzicato and strident harmonics, while Flaten's hyperkinetic bass chases Cleaver's restless trap set through a labyrinthine maze.
"Shape" is an exceptional study in rhythm; a slinky swinger driven by a cool, grooving bass line and a funky, insistent hi-hat that fuels a slew of sonorous cadences from the leader, as well as a lyrical closing statement from Flaten.

"Metaphor" finds Levin embarking on a series of plangent excursions supported by Cleaver's discerning cymbal
accents and Flaten's hypnotic bass ostinato. Brimming with emotional catharsis, the traditional tune "Hangman" is delivered as a haunting dirge. Levin's strident bowing invokes the tune's mordant lyrics with heartrending intensity. "Woods" is equally fervent; Levin and Flaten weave sinuous arco phrases into resonant overtones.
Delving into free territory, "Open" showcases the trio in a texturally rich pointillist improvisation, while "Wiggle" closes the album with a passionate tribute to saxophonist Jimmy Lyons. Negotiating harsh angles at a breakneck tempo, Levin bows with manic virtuosity while Flaten and Cleaver push relentlessly forward, each taking individual solo statements in turn.

A vibrant and assertive detour from his usual chamber oriented quartet offerings, Fuhuffah offers another facet of Levin's growing abilities as an improviser and writer of note. 

 - Troy Collins