Following up DEACON BLUES, his acclaimed 2007 release for Motéma Music, Pete Levin continues to push the envelope of the traditional organ trio format with CERTIFIED ORGANIC.
All About Jazz
Pete Levin / Pete Levin Music 2008
By John Kelman
Keyboardist Pete Levin has built a fine discography, closely linked to the jazz world, but it's his recent solo work that's most worth visiting. Drawing from the same organ jazz roots that defined Deacon Blues (Motema, 2007), on Certified Organic Levin recruits a larger cast of characters for an album high on groove but broad in reach, with elements of swing, soul-jazz, funk, fusion and more.
Levin's own multifaceted nature drives the record, starting from the get-go with his funkified “I'm Falling,” where guitarist John Carridi's chunky rhythm playing locks hand-in-glove with drummer Harvey Sorgen's in-the-pocket groove. Levin solos with the organ-equivalent of Scofield's uncanny ability to take things out just enough to create a palpable release when he brings it back in, while Carridi's overdriven solo is bop-inflected but blues-centric.
While grabbing a larger chunk of compositional credit this time around, Levin also finds new approaches to popular tunes. But it's Levin's arrangement of Jaco Pastorius' often-covered “Teen Town” that's Certified Organic's biggest surprise. Usually a bass workout, this time the knotty but singable theme isn't its primary focus; it's a steadily-building trade-off between Levin and saxophonist Erik Lawrence. Demonstrating undeniably fine skills as composer, arranger and performer whose reach goes well beyond Certified Organic's groove-happy veneer, it's an album that easily places Levin in the same company as Larry Goldings, Gary Versace and Dan Wall
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Over the last 3 decades, Pete has performed and recorded with hundreds of Jazz and Pop artists - Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, David Sanborn, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Vanessa Williams, Lenny White, Hiram Bullock, Carla Bley, Jaco Pastorius, Robbie Robertson, John Scofield - in a diverse career highlighted by an 8 year stint with the Jimmy Giuffre Four and 15 years with the legendary Gil Evans. Known internationally as a master synthesizer specialist, Pete was at the vanguard of that technology, but never lost sight of his Jazz roots and first love, the Hammond Organ. These 2 albums are Pete's first recordings as a band leader playing organ exclusively.
Downbeat Magazine said, "The New York artist has a serious keyboard resume, so you'd expect him to lay down some real grease and gravy." Pete does just that on CERTIFIED ORGANIC, while again demonstrating that he knows how to feature his sidemen. Four different guitarists deliver outstanding performances on this set; New York session whiz John Cariddi (Steve Marcus, Patti Austin), the legendary Joe Beck (Miles Davis, Gil Evans), Mike DeMicco (Dave Brubeck, Jack DeJohnette) and the irrepressible Jesse Gress (Todd Rundgren, Tony Levin Band). Harvey Sorgen (Hot Tuna, David Torn), one of the most exciting drummers on the Jazz scene, lays down the groove along with Pete's organ bass. Guest musicians include saxophonist Erik Lawrence (Hipmotism, Levon Helm) and percussionist Ernie Colon (Harvie S, Sonando). In addition to Pete's dark, driving originals, there are some unique treatments of cover songs, including Moacir Santos's classic "Nana", Jaco Pastorius's trademark "Teen Town" and "Where Flamingos Fly" from the Gil Evans songbook.
PETE LEVIN BIO:
Over his diverse career, keyboardist/arranger Pete Levin looks back on his 15 years performing and recording with the legendary Gil Evans as an ongoing experience that shaped the way he makes music to this day. Says Levin,
“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.”
While playing French Horn with the Gil Evans Orchestra in the early 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 Pete’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.”
An in-demand New York session keyboardist since the 70s, Pete has also 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, he 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.
“All my arranging and orchestrating work is grounded in what I experience in live performance, interacting with other musicians and audiences. That’s what I was trained to do. Synthesizers and computer programming came later. My best and most creative ideas come from playing live.”
In 1990, Pete signed with Gramavision to release his first solo jazz album, “Party in the Basement,” followed by “A Solitary Man” in 1991. Collaborating with drummer Danny Gottlieb, Pete released “The New Age of Christmas” on Atlantic and “Masters in this Hall” for Gramavision. In the years following, he released four New Age CDs for Alternate Mode Productions, and a variety of eclectic albums for independent labels.
With “Deacon Blues” and "Certified Organic" in 2008, Pete returned to the cutting edge as a band leader, while tipping his hat to his mainstream jazz roots. He currently tours with an organ trio along with guitarist John Cariddi and drummer Harvey Sorgen.