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Jazz Times
March 2011
by Bill DeMain

Some music, just by the act of listening to it, makes you feel cooler.  A great jazz organ trio can do that with ease.  Whether it's Jimmy Smith, Richard "Groove" Holmes, or Pete Levin, those syncopated stabs and walking basslines on the Hammond B3, when percolating with brushed drums and warm electric guitar, have the power to relax the mind and stoke the imagination.

As the fleet-fingered Levin saunters and swings through the mentholated grooves of "Exclamation!," "That Was Then" and "The Big Dog Is Always Right," the listener is suddenly in some smoke-filled corner bar, circa 1960, decked out in a sharkskin suit and a Dobbs lid.  And as if he or she needed any more fuel for the way back machine, Levin even covers Mingus' aptly titles "Nostalgia in Time Square."

Remarkably, the B3 is not Levin's first instrument.  In the '70s, he got his start playing French horn with Gil Evans, then branched out as one of jazz's first synthesizer specialists.  His work with a wide array of artists across the spectrum, from Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter to Paul Simon and Annie Lennox, influences his own compositions, which are both harmonically interesting and immediate.  And his choice of covers reflects a playful sensibility, from Doctor Doolittle's "Talk to the Animals" to Tin Pan Alley chestnuts "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Alone Together."

Bandmates drummer Lenny White and guitarist Dave Stryker get plenty of room to stretch out - Stryker's solo on "That Was Then" is especially lovely - but mostly this is Levin administering one long, invigorating shot of B3 cool.

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Pete Levin
CD review by Roger-Z

Pete Levin funked up. That's right. He took your father's organ trio and funked it up on his new CD, "Jump!" The trio (really a quartet) consists of Pete Levin (organ), Dave Stryker (guitar), Lenny White (drums), and Manolo Badren (percussion). Joe Beck (guitar) and Danny Gottlieb (drums) appear on "Honeysuckle Rose."

Levin initially gained fame playing synthesizer with artists such as Carly Simon, Paul Simon, Annie Lenox, Gill Evans, Miles Davis,and John Scofield. In 2007, he became enchanted with the organ trio and since then has released a number of "back to the roots" albums including "Deacon Blues" and "Certified Organic." "Jump!" continues that tradition with a new set of players.

The organ trio (with added percussion) affords the players an incredible amount of room to improvise. The tunes follow a simple format. Pete Levin (who composed half of the record) lays out the head and then they're off to the races! The songs divide up by rhythm -- funk, swing, latin, and ballad. My favorites include the title track "Jump!," the feisty "The Big Dog Is Always Right," the uplifting "Talk to the Animals," the Latin "Candido," and the jaunty "Honeysuckle Rose."

With literally thousands of pull tabs on the Hammond organ, I always wondered how Mr. Levin came up with the right settings. He seems to have found one that he likes and maintains it throughout the record. His tone blends perfectly with the bass and drum. Produced by Levin, none of the instruments invade the others' frequencies.

Guitarist Dave Stryker presents an interesting dichotomy. He plays with a "Strat" feel but a "Jumbo" jazz tone. His style includes many elements in common with, believe it or not, heavy metal. They both utilize ferociously fast and hypnotically intricate lines. Witness the title track.

Lenny White (of "Return to Forever" fame) propels the tunes with a delicate but urgent proficiency. He specializes in prodding the soloist without intruding. White plays ingriguingly behind the beat.

Pete Levin presents "Jump!" as an alternative to "smooth jazz." If you enjoy a lively melody, a crisp rhythm, and lots of improvisation, you will love this record. PS: Levin deserves a Wikipedia entry!

©2011 Roger-Z

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The Rosendale Cafe

Rosendale, NY
March 26, 2011

Live review, by Rudy Lu

I have asked many times in the last few weeks, “Where can I go to hear jazz in upstate NY?” The readers of albanyjazz.com know that there are quite a few venues locally. We have had jazz here in everything from concert halls, nightclubs, churches, coffeehouses and even bookstores. The adjacent Hudson Valley also has establishments that host jazz on occasion as well as the Falcon, a club further southeast in Marlboro that features jazz on a regular basis.

I took a little road trip southwest of Kingston to Rosendale, NY to hear Pete Levin’s latest trio project featuring Dave Stryker on guitar and Lenny White on drums @ the Rosendale Café, a small vegetarian café at the west end of town (By the way, there is a unique selection of draft beers and the food is excellent).

This was second of the 2 gigs in the US that this trio is playing this year to support the new CD Jump (Pete Levin Music). Pete decided to keep the US leg of the tour close to his home in Woodstock by opening at the Falcon in Marlboro.

The all star billing of this band certainly lived up to the reputations of its individual players.

Pete has an impressive resume as a band member as well as leader. He has played with Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Lenny White, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius, Robbie Robertson and John Scofield. This was after a long stint as a French Horn player with Gil Evans. He played leads, melodies and comped with ease.

Dave had been a sideman for Brother Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine as well as a band leader in his own right. Dave Stryker displayed an amazing range of tones and range ranging from the Wes Montgomery sound, to funk and out right rocking out.

Lenny White needs no introduction. A house drummer for the CTI label, drummer for Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” Band and with Return to Forever, he played with incredible fluidity and left no doubt why he has been noted as one of the most influential drummers in jazz.

The standing room only crowd of avid jazz aficionados was treated to an evening of fun of covers and originals.

Funky danceable originals such as “Jump” and “ The Big Dog Is Always Right “ were mixed in with covers of Freddie Hubbard’s ”Little Sunflower” and Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square”. The one cover that I never dreamed I would hear a jazz organ play was the Paul Winter Consort/Oregon new agey classic “Icarus”.

I felt privileged to be one of the few to witness this combo live stateside. Café owner Mark Morgenstern thanked me for coming to his café and asked me to come back. With music of this caliber and the nice laid-back vibe, I certainly will. Hopefully not solo next time but with a carful of Tech Valley jazz fans.

Rudy Lu is a safety consultant by day , fine arts photographer nights and weekends and an occasional music critic. He has had a passion for jazz since his college days when he was a dj for WRUC (Radio Union College). He is a frequent contributor to nippertown.com as well as albanyjazz.com. His work has been exhibited locally and has been featured by both nationally known and local musicians. He lives in Niskayuna, NY.

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Re-organized: Keyboardist Pete Levin Makes the Jump!
Roll Magazine - March, 2011
Interview by Peter Aaron

For a working keyboardist, the fingers are the meal ticket. So God forbid something should happen to any of those precious little digits.
Organist and synthesizer player Pete Levin holds up the bandaged and broken pinky and ring fingers of his right hand. “I had a run-in with my snow thrower,” he says. “Slipped and fell on some ice and my hand went partially in—luckily, it kicked me back out instead of pulling me in farther!” This interviewer shudders, but Levin shrugs it off. “Ahh, you know, country living,” he adds with a wink. The mauling took place less than a week before a gig in Kingston, and yet listening to Levin’s flawless performance that night gave no inkling at all of the handicap.

Of course, Levin, 68, didn’t get to such professional levels overnight. With a resume that spans several decades, Levin has performed and recorded with a ridiculously diverse list of the biggest names in jazz and pop: Paul Simon, Miles Davis, Annie Lennox, Wayne Shorter, Carly Simon, Robbie Robertson, Jaco Pastorius, David Sanborn, Olivia Newton-John, Charles Mingus, Liza Minelli, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Gerry Mulligan, and even Salt-N-Pepa, to barely scratch the surface. Though an eight-year stint with saxophonist Jimmy Giuffre was also key, it was Levin’s long run with pianist and arranger Gil Evans’s groundbreaking big band that has most deeply defined his career.

The older brother of famed King Crimson/Peter Gabriel bassist and Chapman stickist Tony Levin, Pete was born and raised in Boston’s Brookline area. “Tony and I are both lucky we grew up in [Brookline’s] school system,” explains Pete, who started out playing the French horn. “It had a really great music program; the instructors were really knowledgeable and encouraging.” After learning the rudiments of piano and studying classical styles at Boston University, the elder Levin moved to New York in 1965 to attend the Julliard School of Music. By the late 1960s he was haunting the jazz clubs and, in line with his training, building a name in the studios. “In the ’70s I was doing two or three recording sessions some days,” he recalls. “But because of recording technology and the way the industry’s changed, that whole scene is gone forever now.” During those nascent studio days, however, things were still riding high. In 1974, the Levin brothers and drummer Steve Gadd even had a modest hit as the fictitious band “The Clams” with a Spike Jones-styled novelty send-up of the Carpenters smash hit “Close to You.”

One night in the early ’70s Levin got a phone call from tuba player Howard Johnson. “He said, ‘Pete, I’m doing a week with Gil Evans at the Village Vanguard and one of his guys just quit—grab your horn and get down here!’” Levin says. “So I did. I got the gig and stayed with Gil for 15 years; it helped that I already knew him from being around the studios. I really loved playing organ, which I did outside of Gil’s band, but when I got one of the early, portable Moog synthesizers I brought it to a gig. Gil loved it, and, since it was hard for me to switch between the synth and my horn quickly, he ended up adding another French horn player and I just quit bringing my horn altogether.”

Thus, Levin ended up being one of the first to introduce synthesizers into live jazz, and it was largely through that instrument that he would make his name in the commercial world by cutting and composing jingles and soundtracks and doing “sweetening” on pop records. But, not surprisingly, he more fondly recalls his globe-touring time with Evans, who is perhaps best known for his arranging on Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, Miles Ahead, and Porgy and Bess. “Gil was amazing, he taught me so much,” says Levin, who made close to 30 albums with the Grammy winner.

After Evans died in 1988 Levin started focusing on his solo career, releasing several synthesizer-dominated fusion and new age discs. In 2003 he joined his brother upstate—he now lives in Saugerties, while Tony resides in Kingston—where he instantly felt at home, leading and playing on local jazz dates and cranking out bar-band rock with the Retro Rockets and other acts. 2007’s Deacon Blues (Motema Music), however, heralded a return to the organ stylings of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, and Billy Preston that he’d so loved early on. “I’ve always dug the sound of a Hammond organ, but I’d put mine aside in the ’70s,” he says. “At that time nobody wanted to hear a Hammond—and now people can’t get enough of them!”

Levin’s re-organization continued with 2008’s cheekily named Certified Organic, a buoyant soul-jazz set featuring guitarists Joe Beck, Jesse Gress and Mike DiMicco, drummer Harvey Sorgen, percussionist Ernie Colon, and others. But the keyboardist’s newest offering, the self-released Jump!, pares the lineup down to the classic 1960s organ-trio format and finds Levin accompanied by Miles Davis/Return to Forever drummer Lenny White and former Jimmy McGriff/Stanley Turrentine guitarist Dave Stryker. Former Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena also appears.

“Pete is a musician with a great history,” says White, recently on the road with the reunited Return to Forever. “His playing tells stories of the many great musical experiences he’s had.”

And with some rare East Coast dates by the Pete Levin Organ Trio this month and a European tour in April, more of those great experiences are on the way. “I’m a journeyman musician,” adds Levin. “My best and most creative ideas come from playing live.”

The Pete Levin Organ Trio, with Lenny White and Dave Stryker, will play at the Falcon in Marlboro on March 24 and the Rosendale Café in Rosendale on March 26. Jump! is out now. www.petelevin.com.

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Hit List
Vintage Guitar Magazine
Pete Levin
May 2011

The past few Pete Levin albums have featured his fine organ playing, great songs, and lots of room for whatever guitarist was working with him.  Jump! is no different, with Dave Stryker on guitar.  Put the two with drummer Lenny White and you've got the mix for a highly entertaining recording.

Stryker proves a valuable ally on nine cuts; whether it's a funky blues with rock touches (even a nice Hendrixy series of hammer-ons) like the title track, or a swinger like "Exclamation!," Stryker proves a versatile player brimming with soul.  Their take on Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia In Times Square" lets Stryker stretch on single lines, chords, and octaves while building a dazzling solo.  His 9th-chord work on "The Big Dog Is Always Right" proves he would have easily fit into James Brown's JBs.

While most of the tunes are uptempo swingers or rollicking blues, Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" gets a smoky blues treatment that finds Stryker highlighting his harmonic capabilities along with his soloing abilities.

The final cut is a rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose" Levin did in 2008 with the now-deceased Joe Beck.  It's a swinging version and showcases the guitarist's skill at comping and the ease with which he could solo, zipping thoughtfully and easily in and out of changes.  It's a perfect tribute to a player who was woefully underappreciated.

Levin's compositions, as always, are tight and memorable, and his choice of covers is very cool, including an unexpected take on "Talk to the Animals."  Jump! is a treat for jazz and guitar fans alike.  - JH

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Pete Levin - Jump!
(Pete Levin Music)
Review by Glenn Daniels

We've probably said it before, but there's nothing like listening to a master of his craft, and organist Pete Levin certainly fits that description.  Jump! is the bodacious, bluesy, groovin', funky work of his mastery.  If this album doesn't make you wanna move something, you might need to check your pulse.  The project is equally comprised of tunes Levin wrote and electrified versions of songs by Freddie Hubbard, Fats Waller and Charles Mingus, among others.

Helping Levin brew up the groove is an A-list lineup of musicians, which includes guitarist Dave Stryker, drummer Lenny White and percussionist Manolo Badrena.  Levin pays tribute to a departed friend, guitarist Joe Beck by including a tune they recorded together in 2008, with drums added to the track by Danny Gottlieb in 2010.  With such fantastic talents and corresponding performances, Jump! is truly a mover and a shaker.

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Daily Freeman
Kingston, NY
Friday, October 15, 2010

SOUND ADVICE: Pete Levin has outdone himself with ‘Jump!’
Review by David Malachowski

ARTIST: Pete Levin
ALBUM: “Jump!” (Pete Levin Music)

Local treasure and keyboard wizard Pete Levin has put out a series of Hammond B-3 organ CDs of late, and though this – the third - is in theory cut from the same cloth, the reality is, it couldn’t be more different.

Levin always surrounds himself with the best musicians in the world, as he is one himself. But in this outing, the addition of drum legend Lenny White raises the bar considerably. White is known for his work with Miles Davis and for his tenure in the groundbreaking group Return to Forever, as well as his solo projects. Here, his inventiveness and jaw-dropping technique threatens to pull focus from Levin, but it doesn’t. That said, the contributions of master guitarist Dave Stryker and dazzling percussionist Manolo Badrena are not to be slighted. There is no bass player on this, but you’d never know it, as Levin – as is the way with the Hammond - takes care of that business himself, with impressive, spine shaking results.

Levin’s own compositions – from the funked up “Jump!” the deep groove fest of “The Big Dog Is Always Right”, lush and luxurious “Exclamation,” to the dark and foreboding “And “That Was Then” – stand up strongly next to jazz classics like Freddie Hubbard’s “Little Sunflower” and Charlie Mingus’ “Nostalgia In Times Square.” But as always, it’s Levin’s touch, groove, phrasing and all around depth as a musician that makes this such a joy to listen to. It ends fittingly with “Honeysuckle Rose,” featuring the late guitar great Joe Beck, and renowned drummer Danny Gottlieb, a joyous romp of players who are obviously enjoying one another.

Levin has lived a rich life as a musician, playing with the greats of many genres, traveling the world, and making friends everywhere he goes. This is the fruits of that life, music with grace and gravity that means so much more shines brightly here. Levin has outdone himself with “Jump!”


David Malachowski is a guitarist, producer and freelance journalist living in Woodstock.

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Game Vortex Magazine
Pete Levin: Jump!
Review by Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications AKA Matt Paddock
Publisher: PeteLevin.com

Pete Levin is the kind of jazz player that defines the state of the music, in several ways. On the plus side, he's a talented guy playing an instrument that has a long tradition going all the way back to the sacred roots of what is most definitely a secular art form. Players like Fats Waller, Jimmy Smith, and Lonnie Smith are the pillars on which any modern jazz player who wants to be faithful to his roots will stand. Levin nods to all the organ tradition while reserving space for what he calls "an occasional textural piece." His funk, blues, and modal styles are balanced across about half an album's worth of originals and a remainder of repertoire. The repertoire is notable for including a few interesting numbers like Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower" and Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square." A cover of the Leslie Bricusse tune "Talk To The Animals" (made famous in the original Doctor Doolittle) verges on self-parody, the kind of sound that became overused as jazz organ fell into less talented hands and ended up being the instrument of choice for setting a slightly goofy mood in film or TV. Levin manages to make Bricusse slightly cooler through his funky filter, but not enough to justify a place on this record.

The title track, Jump!, is a great romp that wouldn't feel out of place in the hands of a John Medeski. Impeccable backing from Lenny White and Dave Stryker allow Levin to rest his foot and his left hand, and stretch out with some great solos. You can hear a steady diet of bop flowing through Levin's right hand, but his comping and left-hand technique is equally strong. The energy in this trio is infectious. "Little Sunflower" shows they can drop back to a more relaxed tempo and make pretty music, but there's not much material on the record that sounds labored or introspective. It's a fun, driving effort from these three, plus a bonus track that features Levin playing with Joe Beck and Danny Gottlieb. Scanning the list of records on which Pete Levin has appeared, you see a lot of heavy players, including Jaco, Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter, and David Sanborn. You'll also see a lot of new names, players like Levin that release music independently and play constantly in clubs and festivals.

When I said that Pete Levin defines the music and alluded to some downside, it's simply the fact that there are so many Levins out there toiling in relative obscurity while marginal artists are sold through major outlets, and while jazz gets most of its exposure through small clubs and public radio. At least with the growth of viable indie distribution channels, various Pete Levins have more opportunity to reach listeners. There's nothing on Jump! that stretches musical boundaries, but it's music any jazz fan will respect immediately. Organ trios are one of my personal favorites, especially when a horn replaces the bass, as in one of my Top 10 albums, "Gene Ammons: Live in Chicago." I'll bet Levin has heard that record or has it in his collection, along with a ton of other music representing the evolution of jazz from an upstart art form, to popular music, to today's niche status. Put simply, you can hear the tradition in every note this guy plays. Funk fans, the MMW flock, and jazz lovers will each find a favorite tune on Pete Levin: Jump!. Jazz music may not be making the cover of Rolling Stone in this day and age, but you'd never know that, listening to the passion and energy displayed by Pete Levin. Unpretentious, exhilarating, and wonderful.


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Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Pete Levin
by Mark S. Tucker

Available from CD Baby

It's been a while since we heard from Pete Levin—too long, in fact—so the release of Jump! puts us back into that slinky, funky, moody, midnight organ sound once again, this time with a number of estimables: Lenny White, Manolo Badrena, the late Joe Beck, Danny Gottlieb (the latter two going mysteriously uncredited on the front cover, perhaps because they appear on only one cut rescued from earlier sessions) and the nimble Dave Stryker taking up guitar duties otherwise.

As per usual, Levin composes about half the songs and then trots out gems by Freddie Hubbard, Charlie Mingus, Leslie Bricusse, and so on. The opener, Jump!, is a bracing tune, but I more dug its follow-on, Exclamation!, sounding like an amalgam of Brian Auger and Jimmy McGriff, mellow but energetic, a straight-line narrative laying out its own borders and corners. The funk factor spikes up in The Big Dog is always Right, a bouncy cut with descending chords taking it into melancholy while remaining effervescent. Stryker becomes Martino-esque here, with a bit of Grant Geissman, bopping out a great long lead. And don't miss Levin's unusual damped power chords while White solos. On a jazz CD? Sure! Hey, Jon Lord and Keith Emerson aren't the only clever cats when it comes to this kind of stuff.

Ya can't help but drift back to the old Blue Note days in listening to this kind of music-making. McCann, McDuff, McGriff, sure, but McWhothehellelse makes good organ-dominant music now? John Abercrombie's one of the few enamored of the ivory instrument, features it strongly often, especially with Dan Wall, but the old 50s baddest axe is nowadays mostly for coloration, neglecting its wine-smooth tone and flowing moods as a front axe. We ain't talking Ben Hunter's Movie Matinee or the evening service down at the little church on the corner, this is meaty material and organ music deserves much better presence than it gets. Pete Levin's a plugger and refuses to opt out to modernity for its own sake, sinking into updated tradition like hand in glove. His take on Hubbard's Little Sunflower is gorgeous, something Freddie woulda dug the hell out of and a lesson Lonnie Liston Smith might want to think about digging into as well.


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The Jazz Writer
Pete Levin: "Jump!"
by Woodrow Wilkins
October 2010

With a career defined by expertise with electronic keyboard instruments, it’s difficult to imagine Pete Levin playing French horn. Early in his career, he filled that seat in the Gil Evans Orchestra. After bringing a Moog synthesizer to a gig, Levin not only changed course but also led to that band’s evolution into an electric/acoustic hybrid.

Levin is a veteran session and live keyboardist. He has created electronic sounds for television ads as well as movies, including Missing in Action, Lean on Me and Silver Bullet. His associations of jazz and pop artists include Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, Miles Davis, David Sanborn and Wayne Shorter.

For Jump!, Levin plays the Hammond B-3 organ. His core trio consists of guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Lenny White. Percussionist Manolo Badrena appears on a few tracks. And for the closing piece, Stryker and White are replaced by Joe Beck and Danny Gottieb.

The title song sets a festive atmosphere. Though Levin leads, it’s White’s drum play that carries this piece. The mark of a good drummer is one who does more than just keep time in the background. White works the entire kit throughout the song. After Levin’s middle solo, Stryker steps up.

Badrena and White get things started on the funk-fused “The Big Dog Is Always Right.” Stryker’s rhythm guitar gives it a James Brown feel. He later stretches out on a solo. A highlight of the track comes when Levin and Stryker harmonize for the call, while Badrena and White respond.

With Jump!, Levin sheds the traditional organ trio approach for something with more groove. With the organ’s bass mixed up front, the music has the sound of a quartet, making each song richer than if it were simply organ, drums, guitar.


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Record Label and Music Spotlight
News & Notes
Pete Levin: Jump!
October 2010

On of the hippest jazz B-3 organ players on the current jazz scene, New York’s own Pete Levin can always be counted to lead up solid jazz ensembles and for his 2010 album Jump! he gets it right. Guitar fans will note the ten track instrumental jazz set features Dave Stryker while jazz-rock fans will note on the traps, none other than Return To Forever timekeeper Lenny White on drums. Manola Badrena adds in some cool textures while the CD also features guest spots by the late great guitar ace Joe Beck—a duet from 2008—and Danny Gottlieb drums on a track here. There’s an uncanny air of musical ESP these players share. The studio sound is first rate while the package is topped off by cool digi-pak layout. Levin keeps it uptown and the groove just flows track to track.


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Jazz Notes Blogspot
CDs of Note - Short Takes
Review by Ken Franckling
November 2, 2010

Pete Levin, Jump! (self-produced)

Clean and precise B-3 organ work can swing mightily in the right hands – and with the right band to inspire it. No chicken shack required. Pete Levin proves it on this fine self-produced session that teams him with the searing artistry of guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Lenny White. Percussionist Manolo Badrena joins on half of the 10 tracks. The closer, covering Fat’s Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” is dedicated to friend Joe Beck, who died two years ago.

Levin and Beck recorded the track as a duet but it was never released on any prior album. Levin added Danny Gottlieb on drums to make this an aural reunion, which was fitting since the trio had played may gigs together in the past. Other favorites: “The Big Dog is Always Right,” “Nostalgia in Times Square,” “Little Sunflower” and the lively title track. This is a welcome addition to the B-3 discography. It bubbles to the top among contemporary projects.


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JUMP! – Pete Levin Music
Review by Bob Gish
November 2010

Jump!; Exclamation!; That Was Then; The Big Dog
Is Always Right; Talk to the Animals; Nostalgia in
Times Square; Little Sunflower; Candido; Alone Together;
Honeysuckle Rose.

PERSONNEL: Pete Levin, organ; Dave Stryker,
Joe Beck, guitar; Lenny White, drums; Manolo Badrena,
percussion; Danny Gottlieb, drums.

Funky! Cool to the max! Pete Levin and company have a winner here! So, jump with joy at the release of JUMP!, a great constellation of songs and musicians who not only know their business but feel it too.

Pete toasts and treats the listener and his cohorts to a rompin’ good time across the keys and pedals of his velvety-sounding organ. Altitude is always a factor in jumps, whether high or broad, and what’s heard on this CD is nothing less than high, far, and wide. Call it soaring for lack of a better word. Just take a gander at the play list and your pleasure will only be heightened to hear what these slinky stalwarts have to say about them.

There’s jumpin’ Dave Stryker on a cool double cutaway, double pick-up long neck Gibson, not just joining the jump but leading it too, at times taking what can only be thought of as double-daring trampoline, six-string tricks vertically and horizontally across the frets. Levin of course answers such lines with fire-works fingers, more laddy than lady, of his own in cherry-bomb and sky rocket keyboard explosions pointing the way, in turn to Stryker and on “Honeysuckle Rose” to jolly Joe Beck who knows musical somersaulting in all its variations.

In the broad-jump vein there are great groovy tunes such as “That Was Then”, “Little Sunflower”, and “Candido” where the Latin sway motivates the moves and sweet it is, soft and tender and tough and textured. Motion and rhythms are indeed marvelous and multitudinous. Lenny White, Manolo Badrena (especially on the “Big Dog is Always Right”) and Danny Gottlieb (on “Honeysuckle Rose”) provide the snuggly, embracing blanket of drums and percussion. And these dancing cats do contain multitudes of moves, hits, and strikes with sticks, brushes, and hands. Levin and Stryker are through and through much in the tradition of Burrell and Montgomery when it comes to blending guitar and organ and the illustrious panoply of great jazz organists then and now from Jimmy Smith to Joey DeFrancesco.

Just about any track becomes a favorite and listeners will jump back to hear again what they’ve marveled at hearing. Shuffle might be the best setting. Be it deliberate or random, jumping through with these tunes is pure delight. So excuse me while I pause to jump back to hear “Little Sunflower”, and then ahead to catch “Alone Together” one more time, before I jump back and “Talk to the Animals”, or maybe a jump to Jump! is in order.


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Pete Levin - JUMP! (2010)
by Pico
November, 2010

A couple of years back keyboardist and composer Pete Levin put forth Certified Organic, the second in a string of Hammond B-3 jazz records he's recently taken an interest in making. It was a thoroughly enjoyable set, one that sizzled and simmered in all the right places, and we had a great time expounding on its virtues. The album featured guitar great Joe Beck on a couple of tracks, who unbeknownst to me when our review published on July 24 of 2008, he had sadly passed away due to complications from lung cancer just two days before. That was surely a blow to his old friend, Levin.

However, Levin is back again with his third record that's riding that same organ groove, Jump!, which he released on his own Pete Levin Music label on September 26. The B-3 righteousness of Certified Organic whetted my appetite enough for this one, but seeing the line-up he used for this latest one got me even more amped up. Instead of using a revolving cast of session characters, Levin stuck with the same guys throughout, with one exception (which I'll get to later): former Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena, Return To Forever drummer Lenny White and one of the finest soul-jazz guitarists working today, Dave Stryker.

As before, Levin developed a program of originals with some covers that alternately shows off both his compositional and interpretive skills. And once again, Levin updates the greasy goodness of Jimmy Smith and Richard "Groove" Holmes to make it more palatable to contemporary audiences while maintaining an edge that steers it clear of smooth jazz. He is acutely aware of the talent he's surrounded himself with, letting these cats play up to their immense abilities, but also knows when to use the B-3 to take over the proceedings and when to lay back and supply a soul soothing backdrop.

Most of Levin's five originals are loaded up in the front end, starting with a couple of burners in "Jump!" and "Exclamation!" before dialing it down to a cool blue flame for "That Was Then." That second track has a particularly in-the-pocket solo by the leader, but it's Stryker who sends these songs over the top. Stryker can get real funky 70s style as he does on "Jump!" or get into his unsurpassed Jack McDuff moods for tunes like "That Was Then." "The Big Dog Is Always Right" begins with a riff that may have been rewritten from Grover Washington hit "Mr. Magic" (or maybe not), but it shares the same infectious strut and the chords dropped tactfully between the beats.

Of the covers, the Freddie Hubbard standard "Little Sunflower" works the best. Slowed down to a spacious, epochal tone poem, Levin's bass pedal work here is central, a counter rhythm working in tandem with White's nuanced drum work and Badrena's precise percussion. The last cut is a gently swinging run-through of "Honeysuckle Rose" that features Beck on guitar and original Pat Metheny Group drummer Dan Gottlieb on drums. Levin and Beck had cut this cover as a duo the year Beck passed away apparently never intending to release it. However, in a tribute to his departed friend, Levin later brought in Gottlieb to round it out with drums and Gottlieb's track slides in perfectly. Beck's tasteful and funky solo makes one miss him about as much as Levin does.

Pete Levin continues on an B-3 roll with Jump!, and once again makes a very solid groove record. Jump! is how 21st century soul-jazz is done right.


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Pete Levin: Jump
Pete Levin Music
By Ric Bang
December 3, 2010

Keyboardist, composer and arranger Pete Levin has been around for decades. As an instrumentalist, he’s best known for his work with the organ, but he also has been involved with the creation of literally hundreds of commercials and movies. In his early career, he played French horn in the Gil Evans Orchestra, and did an eight-year stint with the late Jimmy Giuffre.

Jump features his expanded organ trio with guitarists Dave Stryker and Joe Beck, percussionist Manolo Badrena, and drummers Lenny White and Danny Gottlieb, who split duties.

Half the tunes here are Levin originals; the rest are covers of standards by Charlie Mingus (“Nostalgia In Times Square”), Freddie Hubbard (“Little Sunflower”), Fats Waller (“Honeysuckle Rose”) and some melodies that aren’t usually given a jazz treatment (“Talk To The Animals” and “Alone Together”). The latter was a Jimmy Giuffre favorite.

Not too many really swinging organists perform today -- Joey DeFrancesco comes to mind -- although past years saw quite a few. Levin is as good as they get. The nature of the instrument doesn’t lend itself jazz; an organ can overwhelm other instruments and is difficult to use for up-tempo tunes. The organist controls that, of course, but the accompanying rhythm section also is a key factor. Levin’s drummers and guitarists are exceptional.

I have one caveat: An hour’s worth of organ, no matter how good, can be a bit overwhelming. One might want to play this disc in conjunction with other albums, in a shuffle mode.


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