Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach was a best selling novel where bird flight became a metaphor for life. Light, airy and full of grace its unpretentious tale was loaded with symbolism toward a far more spiritual purpose. Flight, you see, is as much about belief as it is about craft. So too, Touch The Spirit by Rob Levit.
Rob Levit is an award winning guitar virtuoso who came to note via his Jazz
Trio, but who on this solo release has branched out to embrace experimental,
new age, and world music. Touch The Spirit is an astonishing,
humbling collection, and I use the word quite deliberately. For this is a collection
of pieces. Very much an album in the old sense. A musical c.v. almost. If it
were, "When can you start?" might be the first and last question at the interview
If there are themes on the album, then one may be the conveyance of abstract
ideas and thought via the guitar. I should add here that every guitar (not
solely acoustic), percussion, and vocal on this record is Rob's. The compositions
are all his. Everything is Levit including the watercolour sleeve art.
Another theme is exploration. Calm spirituality is contrasted using warmer, lighthearted tracks. Spanish vistas become Eastern meditations. Jazz moves into Roots. Nylon is exchanged for steel and perspiration becomes one with the frets as Levit takes us on a guided tour of his musical Id. This is the soul of a man I guess we all know - a man who isn't complete without an acoustic guitar in his hands. It is as though in the presence of a philosopher who speaks only through musical composition.
The Tibetan hum on the title track that kicks off the album pushes the piece toward Dead Can Dance territory. This same vibe is revisited on The Traveler, a perfect mélange of North and Latin American traditions. This is followed by one of the most uplifting pieces of instrumental music I have ever heard, The Gift Of Lilies. I can only compare it to, say, Vinni Reilly of Durutti Column. A higher compliment there isn't within me to give.
Yet let us remember that the world of Rob Levit is not that of Factory Records
and 4AD. His is a world of Mingus, Metheny, and Fripp. Perhaps if you're from
that same place, the Blues trio of Disjunction, Country, and
particularly the Scat vehicle Naked might make sense? For myself however,
I'd have to say they'd make fine additions to the cutting room floor. Ones
for the polo-necked, beatnik, Jazz Club elite only, I fear.
However, Rob quickly reminds us what a skilful player he is on tracks like The Stranger and The Bridge. Elsewhere, centerpiece The Borderland sounds like something Brian Eno could have produced circa Remain In Light. In fact, all the arrangements are, of course, by Levit himself.
Perhaps my favourite moment comes with Song for Christopher with its relaxed, joyous style distracting our attention from the complex changes. Emotive writing and wonderful playing. An education and inspiration in equal measure.