In a diverse music career spanning over four decades, keyboardist/arranger Pete Levin has performed and recorded with hundreds of Jazz and Pop artists - including Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Lenny White, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Robbie Robertson and John Scofield - receiving critical accolades for his work during a 15 year association with the legendary Gil Evans, and his 8 year stint with jazz icon Jimmy Giuffre. Says Pete,
“What I got from Gil was the unshakable notion that playing music was to create from a place where there are no boundaries. If it can be imagined then it can be done.”
An in-demand New York session keyboardist, Levin has created electronic realizations for hundreds of TV commercials, dramatic series and feature films, including “Missing in Action,” “Lean on Me,” “Silver Bullet,” “Red Scorpion,” “The Color of Money,” “Maniac,” “Spin City,” “America’s Most Wanted” and “Star Trek.” In a dizzying array of unrelated commissions, Levin composed orchestral scores for the feature film “Zelimo” and for a stage production of “The Dybbuk;” had the honor of composing the anthem for the 1992 United Nations Earth summit, “The Future is in Our Hands,” performing it twice for the U.N. General Assembly; and, as far removed from Jazz as it gets, was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for writing the official military band arrangement of the U.S. Infantry song.
But Pete, whose wry sense of humor is never far from the surface, reveals that his all time favorite recording session produced the top-40 hit single “Close to You” by The Clams, a Spike Jones tribute band formed with his brother, bassist Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), drummer Steve Gadd (Eric Clapton, Paul Simon) and Grammy® winning recording engineer Dixon Van Winkle (Paul McCartney, Frank Sinatra). Thirty years later the recording is still a cult classic.
While playing French Horn with the Gil Evans Orchestra in the mid 70s, Pete brought a Moog Synthesizer to a gig at New York’s Village Vanguard. Already known as a “go to” synthesizer specialist, Pete was at the vanguard of that technology. Gil loved it and Levin’s role was permanently changed as the band transformed itself into the electric/acoustic hybrid ensemble that captivated audiences worldwide for years, winning two Grammy® awards along the way.
“I started bringing a Clavinet, too. Eventually Gil brought John Clark into the band because I couldn’t get back to my horn in time. After a while, I just stopped bringing it. Name another band leader that would let a sideman do that! I owe him a lot.”
In 1990, Levin signed with Gramavision to release his first solo jazz album, “PARTY IN THE BASEMENT,” followed in 1991 by “A SOLITARY MAN.” Collaborating with drummer Danny Gottlieb, Pete released “THE NEW AGE OF CHRISTMAS” on Atlantic and “MASTERS IN THIS HALL” for Gramavision. With “DEACON BLUES” for Motema Music, Pete re-emerged in 2007 as a band leader and master of reinvention, embracing his roots and first love, the Hammond Organ. Working with a group of iconic jazz sidemen (Joe Beck, Danny Gottlieb, Tony Levin) the band demonstrated an uncanny chemistry that was immediate and infectious. Pete followed up in 2008 with "CERTIFIED ORGANIC", continuing to push the envelope of the classic organ trio. In addition to his soaring Hammond, he demonstrated that he knows how to feature his sidemen, giving plenty of playing space to the 4 guitarists on the album - John Cariddi, Joe Beck, Mike DeMicco & Jesse Gress.
In 2010, Pete continued his organ trio CD series with the self-released JUMP!, this time featuring the remarkable Dave Stryker on guitar and legendary drummer Lenny White. Pete and Dave had begun playing together relatively recently, but Pete and Lenny go back years to when they both were in Gil Evans' band. Through 2010 and 2011, Pete toured as an organ trio with Dave and Lenny, periodically playing on their home turf at The Iridium in New York City. His latest release - his first "live" album - is from a 2012 gig at The Iridium, for which the trio was spontaneously joined by three more Gil Evans alumni. Marking Gil's centennial year, the evening turned into a celebration of Gil and his music.
The band for this live performance was an all-star group of alumni of the Gil Evans Orchestra, their performance credits reading like an encycopedia of contemporary Jazz: Pete Levin - organ (Paul Simon, Jimmy Giuffre, Carla Bley, Annie Lennox, Chuck Mangione, Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Robbie Robertson, Joe Louis Walker, David Sanborn), Dave Stryker - guitar (Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff, Stryker/Slagel Band, Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Kevin Mahogany), Adam Nussbaum - drums (Sheila Jordan, Sonny Rollins, Dave Liebman, John Scofield, Steve Swallow, Stan Getz, Eliane Elias, Randy Brecker, Gary Burton, Toots Thielemans, Michael Brecker, Carla Bley), Lew Soloff - trumpet (Manhattan Jazz Quintet, Steve Gadd, Ornette Coleman, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson, Joe Henderson, Tony Bennett, Elvis Costello, Blood Sweat & Tears), Alex Foster - sax (Saturday Night Live House band, Mingus Dynasty, Jaco Pastorius, Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Jack DeJohnette, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis, Tom Harrell, Freddie Hubbard, Cannonball Adderley, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Dizzy Gillespie, John Scofield, Elvin Jones, Michael Brecker, Duke Ellington), and John Clark - French Horn (Mingus Orchestra, McCoy Tyner, Ornette Coleman, Sting, Andrew Cyrille, John Scofield, Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, Odd Couple Quintet, Paul Winter Consort)
SOUND ADVICE: Pete Levin shines in new album
The Freeman - Kingston, NY
Friday, February 08, 2013
By DAVE MALACHOWSKI
ARTIST: Pete Levin
ALBUM: “Iridium Live 008|4-18-2012” (Iridium LIVE)
Local light Pete Levin is known all over the globe for his massive talent on the keyboards, so when it comes time to record a live album, he of course does it at one of the most respected venues around, the Iridium in New York City, where the legendary Les Paul reigned each Monday night for years. On this night last spring, Levin expanded his usual trio configuration (ace guitarist Dave Stryker and brilliant drummer Adam Nussbaum) to bring in horns; Alex Foster (tenor and soprano sax), Lew Soloff (trumpet) and John Clark (French horn) to shake things up. And they did.
Kicking things off with the dreamy, ethereal journey of self-penned “Might Have Been,” Levin sets the tone with bubbling fills, foreboding bass pedals and then a climbing progression to which guitarist Dave Stryker adds some angular round statements. Foster chimes in with a fiery solo, then Stryker returns to bookend it with verve. Levin doesn’t even solo, but he doesn’t have to.
Stryker offers his “Shades Beyond,” with its dissonant intro and theme, and Levin’s sinister underpinning, and Nussbaum light-yet-powerful and turbulent touch that lifts the whole thing to a higher level. Finally, with just Nussbaum behind him, Levin solos, and it’s worth the wait. Cascading riffs, melodically challenging and engaging, perfect phrasing and jaw-dropping yet understated technique, now you know why he’s the leader.
Then comes Freddie Hubbard gentle, soaring “Little Sunflower,” where Levin is emotional, anxious and percussive, and soon Foster explodes as he serpentines wildly and turns it into a stunning tension and release exercise.
Frequent Levin collaborator Lenny White’s tune “Old Wine, New Bottle,” is playful and loose, while Jimi Hendrix’ much interpreted “Little Wing” is given a new twist with Levin’s gorgeous organ atop Stryker’s beautiful voicings, and horns taking the classic melody line.
The whole gang gets together in “Back In the Schoolyard” for a wide-open fun ride where everyone jumps in for a turn.
Though Levin has released some stunning studio recordings, there is always something magical and unknown about a live performance, especially in jazz, and this release is such a perfect example of that high wire walk.
David Malachowski is a guitarist, producer and freelance journalist.