It was easy to be astounded by the technique, speed, playfulness and stylistic dexterity set in motion last night by pianist/harmonica ace Howard Levy and steel guitarist Chris Siebold at Natasha’s. But at the end of the two set, two hour-plus performance it was the sheer sense of invention that ignited all of those attributes.
The most dominate innovations came within Levy’s turns on diatonic harmonica. They included extending the instrument’s range, widening its stylistic scope and, in a particularly adventuresome solo sequence, creating harmony through two simultaneously played melodies.
But the better portion of the program employed a grand rethink of the duo configuration. Having one player tackle a lead or solo while the other offers rhythmic accompaniment is fairly routine. Switching those roles at regular intervals is far trickier. But here is what Levy and Siebold did. Levy often established a melody, reversed lead and rhythm roles with Siebold, then switched from harmonica to piano and started the whole process again. It didn’t stop there. In several instances, Levy played piano with his right hand while blowing through a harmonica with his left. And during the Eastern flavored Jovano Jovanke, he threw percussion into the mix. No wonder the performance possessed a large ensemble feel.
Now let’s talk style. The repertoire touched upon jazz, swing, blues, tango, flamenco, Macedonian folk music and contemporary works that shifted from Gershwin to Dylan. And it wasn’t Levy that was doing all the talking, either. Aside from serving as a highly instinctive accompanist, Siebold displayed a dizzying speed and precision on resophonic steel guitar that brought to mind the skills of such jazz fusion pros as Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin. But during the Spanish flavored lyricism of Fade to Black, the cyclical, repetitive lines Siebold offered under Levy’s solo echoed the prog-flavored playing of Robert Fripp. That’s how far the duo’s stylistic reach went.
In the end, though, Levy won out. His solo segments that juggled piano and keyboard, together with all the harmonic ingenuity the instruments triggered, proved the concert’s unrivaled high water marks.
“I can’t do that,” Siebold said after one such segment. An audience patron, in turn, shouted out the most appropriate follow-up remark.
“Neither can anybody else.”