Flowers from a Secret Admirer

Departing Chico State pianist Caren Levine’s new release is what one might call piano-lounge music, but it is of sufficient musicianship, diversity and intelligence to make the hearer put down his or her cigarette and gin and start listening.

Recorded several years ago, Flowers reveals a highly talented, youthful mind inventing its own melodic variants on conventional forms, probing the music, and then laying on riffs, classical bits, impressionist dissonances, and piled-note climaxes of virtuosic proportions.

One is first caught by Levine’s more flamboyant compositions, such as the title track, which works a catchy Beatles-like tune through Debussy-flavored modulations, piano-jazz galloping, Lisztian flamboyance and a Gershwinesque close. Or “The Coffee Boogie,” which takes a tune from the general neighborhood of “The Hawaiian War Chant,” leads us into it with pounding bass, lays another tune atop it in block chords, mellows it down in a most un-boogie-like manner, and then Gershwins it home—with striking cleanness.

This is not to deny the other tracks, each of which engages the listener’s emotions and intelligence. Start with the subtle, warmly moving "Kaleidoscope." Now. Settle back down. Take another puff; take another sip—and enjoy.