Pete Levin "Deacon Blues"

Pete Levin
"Deacon Blues"
Motema Music MTM-0008 (release date 03/20/07)

CD review by Roger-Z (01/20/07)
Appeared in More Sugar, March 2007, P. 8A

Driving my son to the ice skating rink last night gave me just the handle I needed to review Pete Levin's "Deacon Blues" organ trio CD. For a week, I racked my brains. How does a "rocker" review a "playing" album by some of America's greatest jazz musicians? My favorite organ licks include the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'" and Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride." And then it hit me. When I was my son's age back in the Sixties, every Friday night I went ice skating. And for two hours, an organist played solo versions of everything from "Over The Rainbow" to "Yesterday" to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." Bingo!

No, this isn't your father's ice-skating music! But the sound definitely harks back to that time. Believe it or not, they stopped making the Hammond Organ over 30 years ago! Ironically, Pete Levin made his name as a synthesizer specialist with The Gil Evans Orchestra, Miles Davis, Paul Simon, and Annie Lennox. He gets back to his roots on this album.

An organ trio usually consists of organ-guitar-drums with the keyboardist doubling on bass. Here the guitar duties fall to Joe Beck (noted session player) and Mike DeMicco (Brubeck Brothers Quartet). Danny Gottlieb (Pat Metheny Group, Gil Evans Orchestra) handles most the drum tracks with Ken Lovelett picking up the slack. Levin amplifies the group on several tunes with brother Tony on bass (John Lennon, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel). Percussionists Ken Lovelett and Carlos Valdez add additional flaver. The band grooves incomparably. The music breathes and you can feel the space.

My favorite tunes include the Levin penned soul/bossa, "Uptown," which features tasteful, Wes Montgomery inspired octave playing by guitarist Joe Beck. I always loved The Beach Boy's "Sail on Sailor" but almost didn't recognize it when I heard this bluesy arrangement featuring Mike DeMicco on stinging, single-note guitar. Levin's cascading organ swells sound great as they push DeMicco into an ever upward spiraling line. The magical first notes of the classical Eric Satie composition, "First Gymnopedie" immediately grab attention. Almost sounds like the melody from "My Favorite Things!" Then suddenly, it shifts into a swing section propelled by the mighty drum rolls of Danny Gottlieb. "Dragonfly" (composed by Jimmy Giuffre) jumps out in full Mahavishnu Orchestra mode, then segues into a swing section full of intricate twists and turns. DeMicco handles the difficult changes much like surfing giant waves. Levin takes a more conversational approach, gradually getting more animated until he just blows over the barline. Dig the catchy melody and percussion of the DeMico composition, "Eclipse." And what about the atmospheric, Levin tune, "Might Have Been" featuring mighty organ waves and the searing guitar of Joe Beck? Phil Collins ain't got nothing on these boys. Finally, the 1929 standard, "Mean To Me," features a wonderful "talking" solo by Levin and a great "chording" improv by Joe Beck.

This beautifully packaged CD includes a comprehensive review of each tune written by "Jazz Times" and "Jazziz" contributor Bill Milkowski. It also features a substantial overview of the album by Mr. Levin himself. What the heck can I say? Just that this CD swings old school -- real musicians playing real music in real time. And where can you find that nowadays?

2007 Roger-Z