Like a whiskey aged in charred casks, not a gin - which Pulitzer-winning poet laureate Philip Levine at first taste thought was hair tonic - this collection of world-weary words framed by quick-witted saxophonist/composer Benjamin Boone should be taken neat and steep sampled. Levine grew up in Detroit, and as a teenager during the '50s worked in car manufacturing plants. His general cynicism about the workplace
is at odds with the historicizing Studs Terkel, and his uncomplicated lines are delivered with bleak soulfulness. Levine, who died in 2015, insisted on recording live in the studio with the musicians, even though, in his 80s at
the time, it reportedly took a toll on him. Boone states, nevertheless, he delivered his text, often in first takes, with consummate confidence.
Non-nostalgic jazz pedants might find some of these romanticized riffs on the following somewhat obvious: Sonny Rollins' Williamsburg Bridge woodshedding; the tragic early departure of Clifford Brown; and Bird's forlorn "Lover Man" phase. But these vintage meanders bear repeat listening. Levine and Boone bring it closer to home on the poignant, floaty "Soloing (Homage To John Coltrane)," with lovely, tidal strokes from Branford Marsalis. Despite the star turns, Boone not only distinguishes himself with uncluttered, affecting orchestrations, but by passionately balancing intellect and emotion.