in performance: howard levy and chris siebold/osland-dailey jazztet

Howard Levy (left) and Chris Siebold.

The first sounds Howard Levy greeted tonight’s crowd at the Singletary Center for Arts Recital Hall with was a series of low, bullfrog-like grunts – vocal exercises, one supposes, for an artist who wouldn’t sing at any point during the evening.

“It gets better,” promised guitarist Chris Siebold, Levy’s performance partner of some 15 years.

Indeed it did. For the following 90 minutes, harmonica stylist and pianist Levy (best known for his ongoing work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) used Siebold’s guitar colors as foils for duo selections largely pulled from a just-released album, “Art + Adrenaline.” To most years, what resulted could probably have been filed under the blanket term of jazz simply because the music was predominantly instrumental and heavily reliant on improvisation. But a closer listen revealed strong accents of blues, urbanized folk, Eastern-flavored rhythms, tango, swing and probably a dozen other styles. The thrill, however, came largely from the duo’s very natural chemistry.

That awarded some of the tunes a certain amount of technical indulgence, mostly in the form of warp speed runs from both players. But it also set up a conversational design for the evening that allowed the myriad styles at work during the set to bloom.

Such was the case with the show opening “The Tristate Boogie,” which allowed a steely, Slim Harpo-like guitar dash by Siebold on resonator guitar (which he played exclusively, without a slide, for the entire program) to form a foundation for Levy’s country-esque outbursts on harmonica. That set up one of the evening’s greatest curiosities, a Levy tune called “Evanston Tango” that held tight to a new generation dance sound very much in the vein of tango colossus Astor Piazzolla, complete with a jazz-like tumble into swing that distinguished the latter’s compositions.

Stretching the stylistic and geographical boundaries of the repertoire further was a lovely reading of Bach’s “Siciliano in G Minor,” where Levy’s harmonica serenade emphasized dramatically slower, quieter and more graceful strides within Siebold’s playing. More visibly audacious was Levy’s simultaneous juggling of harmonica duties (with his right hand) and piano (with his left) during “Riding the Urban Range” and a full surrender to steel guitar and blues harp phrasing on a Siebold-led cover of “Key to the Highway.”

The five members of Osland-Dailey Jazztet – which also opened the evening with a brief, three-song set – joined the duo for a two-tune finale highlighted pianist Raleigh Dailey’s “Jules Verne” The composition used a mischievous, light tempered intro as tease for a boisterous, boppish joyride that highlighted the novel design – harmonica, soprano saxophone, steel guitar and trombone – of the combined bands’ front line. What emerged was a display of honestly joyous jazz pollination that bolstered a sense of playfulness and invention that fueled the entire show.

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