Daniel Levin/Chris Pitsiokos/Brandon Seabrook - Stomiidae

Label: Dark Tree Records, 2018

Personnel – Daniel Levin: cello; Chris Pitsiokos: alto saxophone; Brandon Seabrook: guitar.


Adventurous cellist Daniel Levin has been taken creativity further with bold trio projects totally lean on free improvisation. After collaborating with saxophonist Tony Malaby and violist Mat Maneri on New Artifacts (Clean Feed, 2017), he now presents us a new project co-lead by fiery altoist Chris Pitsiokos and the wildly virtuosic guitarist Brandon Seabrook.
The album title, Stomiidae, refers to a class of particularly small deep-sea ray-finned fish, and the seven tracks were named according to some of its representative species.

Photonectes Gracilis” opens with Pitsiokos’ incessantly frantic runs, which foment prompt responses by his peers. The result is vociferous, dispersed, and convoluted, only occasionally marching toward convergence and harmony. These dynamics, bracing a collective vision, end up in another noisy stir with saxophone growls and whistles, violent guitar discharges, and corrosive cello rips.

The art of noise is not so simple as it seems, and on “Eustomias Trewavasae” the threesome structures layers of drones with shifting moods and several intensities and densities. Levin uses the cello as a percussive element through bow tapping, leading the trio into a cacophony conversation that lies between lucidity and insanity.

Neonesthes Capensis” feels like a neo-folk extravaganza that cumulates endless circular movements, rapid-fire sprints, and provocative interjections. Its freedom and interplay make us feel alive. 

Both “Chauliodus Danae” and “Photostomias Atrox” last around two minutes, embracing distinct atmospheres marked by different granularities in its microtonal textures. The former stands out through the magnetic tonalities created by the bowed cello.

We are able to picture dark and gelid aquatic habitats from the fully-tilt passages that describe “Opostomias Micripnus”, a piece whose rhythmic control combusts with raw intensity, enhancing the frisson of discovery. High-energy aggregations are spontaneously lined up through several individual actions. While the saxophonist attacks with both piercing and popping sounds along with mercurial patterned sweeps, the guitarist inflicts short distorted blows and odd fingerpicking with strong accentuation toward the epicenter of the storm, with Levin injecting ominous sawing, panting low sounds.

Even if the sonic entropies are subjected to repetition, there are captivating abstract moments on Stomiidae that will make listeners of modern creative and new music styles fully immersed in the experimental, often-opaque waters in which the trio navigates.

        Grade  B

        Grade B

Favorite Tracks:
01 - Photonectes Gracilis ► 02 - Eustomias Trewavasae ► 04 – Neonesthes Capensis

Tony Malaby/Mat Maneri/Daniel Levin - New Artifacts

Label/year: Clean Feed, 2017

Lineup - Tony Malaby: tenor and soprano saxophones; Mat Maneri: viola; Daniel Levin: cello.


This symbiotic musical gathering between saxophonist Tony Malaby, violist Mat Maneri, and cellist Daniel Levin happened at the Three’s Brewer in Brooklyn in August 2015. This collaboration is not so surprising to me, taking into account that the members of this trio are prone to new experiments and alternative sounds.

Comprising four tunes, whose durations range from seven to thirteen minutes, New Artifacts opens with the title track, a fearless exploration of tones and textures in an innuendo of avant-jazz meets modern classical. Whether jarring or idyllic, the soundscapes are vast and sumptuous, yet the communication remains focused and alert. Despite occasional escapades, Maneri and Levin are in consonance for the most part of the time, leaving the unrestricted Malaby discoursing via tenor phrases mounted with a wide variety of timbres.

The saxophonist makes use of the soprano for “Creation Story” in which he embarks on a dissonant dialogue with Maneri. They speak frankly and only intermittently reach an agreement. At some point, Levin increases the rhythm by tapping the cello and plucking the strings to make it sound like a bass. The sounds of the instruments blend so thoroughly that sometimes it’s difficult to tell who’s playing what. The tune ends with Malaby’s high-pitched whistles over percussive sounds.

Open and atmospheric, “Freedom From the Known” starts by testing the waters through minimalistic fluctuations in order to gradually compose a wide and complex scene. Here, Maneri influences the mood by contrasting sad melodies with rugged tones.
In opposition to the previous compositions, “Joe” hauls us into a spooky musical setting, forcing us to traverse multiple obscure dimensions.

Highly conceptual, New Artifacts is everything but an easy listening and even staunch avant-gardists will have a challenge here. If you’re sufficiently courageous as a listener, go ahead and try to capture the richness of these triangular propagations.

         Grade  B+

         Grade B+

Favorite Tracks:
03 – Freedom From the Known ► 04 – Joe