In many ways, New York Portraits seems like Levin’s dream of what the music played in the swing clubs around New York City during the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s must have sounded like. The melodies live in two worlds, the past and the present. The songs are steeped in nostalgia in their phrasing but the tones and the improvised lines are purely contemporary. New York Portraits is a vital asset to jazz music’s gallery. It bridges two worlds that are far apart and yet enjoy each other’s company, at least the way Levin’s trio presents it.
~ Susan Frances, Jazz Times
Levin's playing has a tart sophistication and understated humor to it while Bates and Flood blend in with him nicely. He dances through standards like "Who Can I Turn To" and "I Remember You" with slippery ease and really burns on "Cheek To Cheek," slipping a "Jeepers Creepers" quote into his rolling solo. He also plays in a stately gospel mode on his original "Last Exit To Brooklyn" and is reminiscent of Jaki Byard in the tempo shifts, impish bluesy accents, and complex choruses he uses on "Like Someone In Love." "Porgy" and "isn't It A Pity" Come out delicate and haunting like Bill Evans ballads and the CD closes with a slow elaborate dissection of "Body And Soul" with bowed bass and hushed, slowly unwinding piano, bringing a satisfying ending to a fun and frisky session.
~Jerome Wilson, Cadence Magazine
Swinging piano trio jazz is what you will find on New York Portraits (Alex Levin Jazz – No Catalog Number), a wonderfully uplifting new album from pianist ALEX LEVIN. Levin aimed to capture the feeling of what so many jazz fans experienced in countless jazz clubs and piano bars during the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, when they drifted in for a late evening of sounds and relaxation. He even arranged to record this disc between the hours of 10 P.M. and 2 A.M., the time when this music was routinely performed around the Big Apple. He has succeeded admirably. Levin has bassist Michael Bates and drummer Brian Floody on board to explore ten tunes, including two originals, “Last Train to Brooklyn” and “Blues for Charley,” that are right at home with “My Heart Stood Still,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “I Remember You,” “I Loves You Porgy,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” “Like Someone in Love” and “Body and Soul.” If you dig straight ahead jazz piano, you will dig New York Portraits.
~Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz
The music of this trio sounds so full and powerful. From the first notes of the first track, "My Heart Stood Still," everyone shines without getting in each other’s way, just like a group should be. Some of the music is relaxing but intense at the same time like the music of the second track, "Who Can I Turn To". Michael Bates shows his great technique on the bass intro of "Last Train to Brooklyn", giving way to the wonderful piano melodies on this Alex Levin original piece. Their playing is instinctive and flawless. These guys just don't know how not to swing. They are in full swing in the classics "Cheek to Cheek" and "I Remember You", the Alex original "Blues for Charley" and even the slow swing of "Like Someone in Love." Alex's melodic and harmonic choices are always interesting. One can fully appreciate this on the piano solo interpretation of Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy" and the not so recognizable Gershwin piece, "Isn't It a Pity" this time accompany by Michael on bass and Brian on drums. All the music on this album definitely gives you that New York vibe, including the wonderful version of "Body and Soul."
~Wilbert Sostre, Jazz and Bossa
It's getting harder and harder to find a little peace in this world. Sometimes, music can provide some of our only chances to escape, if only on our commute to and from work. "New York Portraits," the latest from The Alex Levin Trio, just might have you taking the long road to work, as it's beauty and artistry shine through with every note. With a collection of songs designed to smooth over the roughest day, "New York Portraits" is on the fast track to jazz chart dominance. Levin %26 his band deliver from start to finish on this album, going from Gershwin to Berlin, with original pieces mixed in with no dip in quality. "Last Train To Brooklyn," a Levin original, shines brightest on this collection. The track is a master class in paying homage to your hometown while creating a work of art likely admired from coast to coast. Any jazz fan, new or old, will easily be impressed with this album. It is everything that great music can be, with none of the dead weight that can drag down lesser works. Give your collection a bite of the Big Apple with "New York Portraits" today.
~Christopher Llewellyn Adams, Cashbox Magazine
Enchanted by its rich musical history and vibrant jazz scene, the city of New York provides the primary inspiration for Levin's music, the pianist explaining, "New York Portraits is like a big painting of New York." Like an artist with a vision, Levin serves up a palette of beautiful music; brush strokes to the canvas of a musical masterpiece. A gifted pianist, with crisp right-hand lines during brisker solo moments, Levin is neither a showy or selfish player, but is firm and commanding instead.
~Edward Blanco, All About Jazz
It happens so rarely these days that it's always a welcome surprise when a new pianist comes along and plays wonderfully crafted standards with no pretense, no frosting and no attitude. Such a musician is Levin, and you've got to appreciate his trio's straight-ahead approach to some "forever tunes." With Michael Bates on bass and Brian Floody on drums, Levin makes it all work elegantly on a host of standards. Two of his original tunes complete the lineup. Levin is from the revered school that doesn't mess your head up with notes that don't count. He chooses all the right ones; perhaps drawing some inspiration from masters like Hank Jones or John Bunch. For me, the piano trio is the ultimate jazz expression, and Levin has it covered with, as the title suggests, a New York flair.
~George Fendel, Jazzscene
Smart piano man in the original Ramsey Lewis Trio tradition swings through a set of classics that aren’t all New York themed but have that up market super club sound that oozes sophisticated swing. A deceptively easy sounding player, Levin is more than skilled at hitting all the right notes and serves up a real straight ahead steamer that’s hard to resist. First class all the way.
~Chris Spector, Midwest Record Recap, Volume 33/Number 313
First impression when I started to play this new album by the Alex Levin Trio was of watching a movie and being in one of those ritzy hotel foyers in a big city like, yes - New York will do, where a discretely placed trio are playing lounge jazz while the world and its brother are moving like ghosts on a chess board. Well, I guess that is a pretty profound thought or I have been sucking too many cough sweets! Actually, New York Portraits is a collection of eight 'great American song book' classics and a couple of originals by pianist Alex Levin himself. The remaining members of the trio are Michael Bates on bass and Brian Floody on drums. I'm not sure if 'lounge jazz' is a valid category but these gently meandering tracks certainly seem a tad more refined than that offered in a smokey jazz club to my ears. Mr. Levin's dexterity on the piano keys is fluid and inventive while retaining the all-important melody of each song, and I find that very pleasing to my ears. The tracks are My Heart Stood Still, Who Can I Turn To, Last Train to Brooklyn, Cheek to Cheek, I Remember You, I Loves You Porgy, Isn't it a Pity, Like Someone in Love, Blues For Charley, and Body and Soul. I also rather liked the cheeky way the logo for Mr Levin's own label mimics the classic Atlantic Records label design as a homage to the jazz greats that recorded for it. So, New York Portaits gets a double thumbs up from me, it is one of the most pleasant jazz albums I have heard in ages and I think has great cross-over potential if played on the more mellow radio stations. Highly recommended.
~John M. Peters, The Borderland (musicwatch column)
The Alex Levin Trio is comprised of Alex Levin (piano), Michael Bates (bass), and Brian Floody (drums). Levin has been played in different places around the globe for the past two decades. He formed his first quartet in the late 1990s in Germany called The Living Room. New York Portraits is a classy album featuring sultry and inviting jazz from a trio that always seems right on the mark. All of the tracks on this album were recorded between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM because, according to the press release, "If the trio sounds like it's playing late, it's because it's true" (haw!). Classy stuff here, with the main focus being Levin's free flowing technique on the keys. Almost 54 minutes worth of music on this disc that features both originals and covers. Our initial favorites include "My Heart Stood Still," "Last Train To Brooklyn," and "Blues For Charley."
~D. Seven, LMNOP Magazine
Whenever I hear something related to images or remembrances (i.e., portraits), I can’t get some of the crazy pictures out of my head that I experienced on my first trip to the Apple (way back in the mid-’60's)… but this splendid CD from Alex and crew (Michael Bates on bass and Brian Floody on drums) features some of the finest memories one could glean from a musical set (must be a New York from an alternate universe, eh? Just kidding, guys). One of the most pleasurable listens on the CD was “I Remember You“, but my favorite of the 10 pieces on the album was the very uptown (yet somehow “down home”) “Blues for Charley“… very hip! This one gets my MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for folks who just can’t do without high-talent jazz piano trio.
~Rotcod Zzaj, Improvijazzation Nation
Artists do not evolve in a vacuum. Collectively, they assimilate all they have learned and heard into a new creative paradigm that they call their own. A durable respect for the past characterizes the trio art of pianist Alex Levin. Listening to his collection New York Portraits, the spirits of pianists long gone are present in that fecund humus existing between the notes of Levin's treatments of original and standard compositions alike.Levin's treatment of Johnny Mercer's "I Remember You" is likewise populated by this spirit. The Vince Guaraldi opening gives way to a Red Garland block chord interior. Bates solos and Levin enters solo sideways like Errol Garner, quoting Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-n-ing." Drummer Brian Floody provides a pronounced Philly Joe Jones rim-shot beat that recalls those great Garland trios with Jones and Paul Chambers. Levin does this all without slipping into mere imitation. He commands all of these styles and make them his own.
~C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
The Alex Levin Trio is one of those groups that I could listen to all night. Soft and easy jazz music is what New York Portraits is all about. This one is definitely a keeper.
~Bruce VonStiers, BVS Reviews
The songs are primary standards that have helped define the connection between New York City and jazz, the hustle and bustle of the streets mixed in with the people who make the streets what they are. But by adding his own stories (in the form of “Last Train To Brooklyn” and “Blues For Charley”), he adds to the mystique of the music and the city, even if it’s just perceptions of interpretations of truth. Away from that, it’s just some mighty fine music and to be able to hear “Cheek To Cheek”, “I Remember You”, and “I Loves You Porgy” brought into the 21st century is joy in itself. I like what Levin does with his playing too, I’m very impressed.
~John Book, This is Books Music