The last time we heard from veteran saxophonist and clarinetist Dan Levinson, he was spearheading for Turtle Bay Records a special 20-year anniversary re-issue of Celebrating Bix! – a large ensemble tribute to legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbeck that he co-produced with fellow Bix enthusiast Doug LaPasta whose original release marked the centennial of Bix’s birth. With The Song In Our Soul, a wildly spirited yet richly soulful collection of brilliant if lesser known chestnuts from the early swing era (1920’s-30s), Levinson shines a light on The Palomar Trio, his group of jazz vets with an equal passion for that classic style of music.
What makes these 11 contemporary re-interpretations unique is the fact that Levinson, pianist Mark Shane and drummer Kevin Dorn are more than just likeminded fans of that era. They’ve been playing together off and on for nearly 25 years, forming a graceful, easy rapport that lends a sense of joyous, effortless fun to the material. Though dubbed a trio, another obvious bit of freshness comes from the fact that there’s no bass the rhythms of the songs. Levinson says of his pianist, “It takes a musician of Shane’s caliber to create harmonies so full and rich, you don’t notice there’s no bass.”
The three spent some of their pandemic lockdown time jamming in Shane’s music room or over Zoom, and the 11 tracks they chose for the album are culled from a batch of selections they worked on during this era. Their criteria in whittling down from a set list of 25 to the eleven they present here was simple: the songs that swung the most. Keep in mind that the big band songs from this era were not only recorded but created to be performed live and get people dancing – both during the jazz age and to help lift spirits during the Great Depression.
On that note, the trio’s winsome swirl through whimsical romps like Fats Waller’s “Keep A Song In Your Soul,” the million selling “In a Shanty In Old Shanty Town” and the Jimmie Noone’s Apex Club Orchestra’s peppy “El Rado Scuffle” and “Wake Up! Chill’un, Wake Up!” and the bright piano pounder “It’s Been So Long” (from MGM’s The Great Ziegfeld) will get your toes tapping and heart racing as you imagine time traveling to a long ago dance floor. Balancing the uptempo gems, The Palomar Trio adds some bluesy emotional heft with slower burning tunes like “Delta Bound,” “Roses in December” and “The Day Your Came Along.”
In these fraught sociopolitical times we live in, with two regional wars raging overseas, it’s probably helpful to remember that clarinetist Edmond Hall first recorded the feisty and festive “Rompin’ In 44’” during the height of WWII. The Palomar Trio is at its best on celebratory songs like this that remind us, so many years later, that music has the power to overcome the worst things the world can throw at us.