|VINTAGE GUITAR MAGAZINE
HIT LIST REVIEWS
Levin is a keyboard specialist who for the past few decades
has played with the best in the business, including Paul
Simon, Miles Davis, John Scofield, Robbie Robertson, David
Sanborn and plenty of others. On this set he concentrates on
Hammond organ and lines up two of his favorite guitarists to
simulate an old organ trio. Joe Beck is one of the real
giants of fusion, and has made fine records. He's an
incredible player, as his five cuts here attest. His comping
and be-bop attitude help Levin translate Steely Dan's
"Deacon Blues" into a hard swinger. "Uptown" is highlighted
by minor-key soloing with octaves bouncing off the wall. If
you want an idea of how good he is, harmonically check out
"Mean to Me," where he mixes incredible chord soloing with
single lines in a way most guitarists would only dream
about. And Levin turns his original "Might Have Been" into a
vehicle for Beck to show off a bluesy side that remains
The other guitarist is Mike DeMicco, whose wonderfully
imaginative playing helps turn the Beach Boys' classic "Sail
On Sailor" into a natural adaptation. DeMicco's original
"Eclipse" is a hard bopper that finds him playing around the
changes about as well as anyone. It's the perfect
demonstration of chops. He also shows his ballad skills on
Erik Satie's "First Gymnopedie."
Overall, this is a hard-driving set that features Levin, his
brother, Tony, on bass, the two guitarists, and drummer
Danny Gottlieb in a relaxed session that lets everyone show
their skills. - JH
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|Guitar World's BASS GUITAR
THE LO-PASS FILTER (CD reviews)
Hammond organist Pete Levin's slightly more famous brother
Tony joins him here on five-string fretless, and it's clear
from the opening strains of the Steely Dan title cover that
the two had a blast. An airy version of avant-garde composer
Erik Satie's "First Gymnopedie" is the arguable centerpiece,
with both Levins logging seamlessly sympatico performances.
- Bill Murphy
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PETE LEVIN - "DEACON BLUES" ( Motema)
There’s just nothing that can replace the classic sound of a
Leslie speaker-driven Hammond B3 organ. Pete Levin should
certainly be counted among the instrument’s modern masters
as he has served as a session artist and touring sideman for
On “Deacon Blues” he comes center stage with a post-bop
oriented agenda that highlights swinging original
compositions, empathic players and a great overall vibe.
“Might Have Been” is a Levin tune that’s cool and lounge-y,
with biting guitar work from Joe Beck and fine support from
Danny Gottlieb on drums. The title track “Deacon Blues” is
the classic Steely Dan composition given a brisk and
swinging instrumental redux.
The Ralph Towner tune “Icarus” takes on a strong and vibrant
Latin feel with a push from Pete’s brother Tony Levin on
bass and Carlos Valdez on congas.
Guitarist Mike DeMicco and percussionist Ken Lovelett round
out the cast, but the timeless “organ trio” sound of Beck
and Gottlieb recall the salad days of Jimmy Smith and his
essential ‘60s Blue Note sides.
- Eric Harabadian
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by David Malachowski
Venerable musician Pete Levin has played with a dizzying
array of superstars, from pop giants Paul Simon and Annie
Lennox, to jazz icons Miles Davis and Gil Evans, but with
Deacon Blues, he has a lot to say himself, and we should all
stop and listen.
Though Levin has made his mark as the go to guy for synth,
this release is a B3 organ extravaganza, and with the recent
passing of icon Jimmy Smith, Levin now steps into that void.
Recorded in Mt. Tremper at Sonart Studios, Levin not
surprisingly brings in an impressive crew; famed bassist
(and brother) Tony Levin, brilliant guitarist Mike DeMicco,
ace percussionists Ken Lovelett and Carlos Valdez as well as
jazz legends guitarist Joe Beck and drummer Danny Gottlieb.
His tenure with Evans had to be a school unto itself, and
it's evident in his approach and touch.
The Donald Fagen penned title track has a deadly groove that
Levin takes full advantage of. Hearing the Hammond B3 take
the melody is simply something that has to make you smile.
Levin then pushes it with a juicy solo, but it's not over
yet-Beck chimes in with a complex and compelling solo with a
pure tone and intense drive.
Levin's own "Uptown" is full of space and Beck again is just
jaw dropping in his skyward solo. "Sail On Sailor" surely an
under appreciated Beach Boys gem, is given some respect
here. DeMicco finally joins the fray, and though one foot is
in the jazz pond, the other is deep in the blues muddy
river. He offers a stinging, emotional solo, Levin follows
with a powerhouse ride that you can just picture him pushing
and shaking the organ.
Levin's own "Once Lost" (with another blazing DeMicco solo)
and "Might Have Been" reveal he can write as well as he
Ralph Toner's "Icarus" is a sure highlight; with it's myriad
of changes and gorgeous melody. Levin shows off his harmonic
range here, while Beck double-stops like there's no
Tony Levin shines in "Sad Truth," a slippery fretless intro
here is just stunningly beautiful, and sets the tone for
Pete as he picks up the ball midway with some meaty notes
and clever phrases that serpentine around his brother's
Bringing in the heavyhitter soloists certainly makes this
outing a real treat, but make no mistake, Levin is never
overshadowed here, he in fact is the reason why the others
are able to soar, and he does himself time and again.
A true master musician, Levin is never shackled by genre or
form, if he thinks it, he can play it. But Deacon Blues is a
real jazz record and all you have to do is listen, and
David Malachowski is a guitarist, producer and freelance
journalist living in Woodstock.
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|Sea of Tranquility
[Online review site for jazz fusion/prog, etc]
February 12th 2007
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Score: * * * *
Levin, Pete: Deacon Blues
Pete Levin should be familiar to
many fans of jazz, fusion, and prog, as not only has he
played with the likes of Miles Davis, David Sanborn, John
Scofield, Paul Simon, Robbie Robertson, Jaco Pastorius,
Wayne Shorter, Annie Lennox, Lenny White, and Gil Evans, but
he also happens to be the brother of acclaimed bassist Tony
Levin. On Pete's latest solo album, the keyboard ace has
recorded a throwback to the 60's organ trio's (Jimmy Smith
or Larry Young anyone?) featuring his tasty Hammond licks
coupled with guitarists Joe Beck & Mike DeMicco, drummer
Danny Gottlieb, Carlos Valdez & Ken Lovelett on percussion,
and brother Tony on bass.
Normally known for his synthesizer prowess, Levin's Hammond
skills are upfront and center here on Deacon Blues. Listen
to him add his smoky tone alongside the smooth as silk
trappings from ace guitar veteran Beck on the title track, a
cover of the Steely Dan classic. The two trade barbs on the
red-hot "Uptown", and the Ralph Towner staple "Icarus" is
given a royal treatment with some spooky organ from Levin
and Beck's tasty legato licks. However, it's "Might Have
Been" that offers up Joe Beck's most explosive solo on the
CD, a scorching rock driven excursion with a touch of LA
Jazz, sounding very much like a young Larry Carlton. DeMicco
also gets room to shine, dueling with Tony's slippery bass
lines on the laid back "Sad Truth", laying down liquid lines
on "Eclipse", and blazing through the Brian Wilson penned
"Sail on Sailor".
Despite all this guitar wizardry, this is really a vehicle
for the great Hammond playing of Pete Levin, which is
probably no more stunning than on the wonderful "First
Gymnopedie", where he really digs in and stretches for some
sumptuous lines that would make the late Jimmy Smith proud.
B3 lovers get ready-Deacon Blues is a feast for the ears,
and a super treat for Hammond fans.
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|Enjoy Entertainment Guide
Indulge in Levin's love of jazz
By John Barry
Pete Levin and band plays Rosendale March
February 23, 2007
Fresh out of The Juilliard School, from
which he graduated with a master's degree in French horn,
Pete Levin in the early 1970s was a very busy session
"There was a lot of work at that time,"
Levin, a jazz musician, Massachusetts native and current
Saugerties resident, said during a recent telephone
interview with the Journal. "I was walking around Manhattan,
doing two, three sessions a day."
One of the many other musicians doing
session work at the time - a horn player - completed his
session work one day in 1973 and returned home to New
Jersey, before coming back to the city for his gig with the
Gil Evans Orchestra, fronted by one of the heavyweights of
modern jazz. He arrived at the Village Vanguard, then
realized he had forgotten his mouthpiece at home.
Rather than heading home for the mouthpiece
and returning, he decided he didn't need the job and left.
The vacancy prompted two other band members to call their
friend, Pete Levin.
"I had a couple friends in the band who
called me and said, 'you gotta come down,' " Levin recalled.
Evans was booked for a week at the Village
Vanguard. He kept Levin in the band for that run of shows
and for the next 15 years, until Evans died in 1988.
That gig was one way Levin expressed his
love of jazz.
"I can't remember a time when I wasn't into
jazz," he said. "It goes back to high school."
You can hear Levin indulge his love of jazz
on his new CD, "Deacon Blues." You can see Levin play jazz
one week from Saturday, on March 3, when he brings his
quartet to the Rosendale Cafe.
Supporting Levin on guitar will be Joe Beck,
who has worked with Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and Stan
Getz. Playing drums will be Harvey Sorgen, who has
played with hot Tuna, Bill Frisell and Anthony Braxton;
and rounding out the quartet will be Ernie Colon on
But Levin won't be playing the French horn
in Rosendale, thanks to some musical experimentation he
engaged in after playing with Evans for several years. In
Rosendale, Levin will be playing jazz on the Hammond organ.
"I was experimenting with synthesizers,"
Levin said of the instrument that at the time was nowhere
nearly as widely used as it is now. "I asked Gil if I could
bring one in, make some noises, see how I could contribute.
I had a double keyboard rig. He started writing for it and
giving me more space. ... He got another horn player. I
stopped bringing the horn and that was that."
Levin stuck with the synthesizer after his
early exploration with the Evans Orchestra. He worked on
music for commercials, which were interested in these new,
outer space, synthesizer sounds, particularly since the film
"Star Wars" had become a hit.
"The synthesizer is an instrument that
doesn't have an established sound," Levin said. "It could
sound like almost anything you wanted it to by just tweaking
knobs and experimenting and adjusting it. You could take it
to a whole other place. It was all about experimentation."
You can watch Levin apply his expertise to
this tonal technology when he plays with Uncle Funk, an
Ulster County-based superstar dance band that plays cover
songs; and the Tony Levin Band, which is fronted by his
brother, the bass player for Peter Gabriel; and which often
veers into unknown musical territory.
But Levin really tears it up, rips it apart
and sews it all back together on the Hammond organ.
"I love his feel, his sense of time, his
groove," said Sorgen, who lives in West Shokan and worked
with the band My Morning Jacket on their most recent album,
which was recorded at Allaire Studios in Shokan. "He's
really very strongly groove-oriented. So much of the groove
comes from him. It's really easy. It really flows."
As his musical training reached beyond the
French horn to a wide array of instruments with keyboards,
Levin's exploration of different musical genres has many
layers. He has toured with Annie Lennox and along with his
brother, toured with Paul Simon.
"Pete's training ranges from classical
(French horn at Juilliard) to rock and jazz, with short
shops at banjo bands and weirder(!)," wrote Tony Levin in an
e-mail. "But his love of jazz keeps bringing him back to
that genre - he's very well known, having played live with
many groups, and recorded with even more. So it's good to
see Pete choosing the material he digs and 'giving it some'
on the Hammond B3. The sound is classic, and his playing is
Gigs with Annie Lennox, Paul Simon and Miles
Davis - along with next week's concert in support of his new
CD - all mark milestones for this kid from Brookline, Mass.
Incidentally, Levin graduated from Boston
University with a degree in music education after a high
school teacher suggested the young musician "have something
to fall back on."
But he seems to have always gotten his
biggest musical kicks while performing live. And the music
he loves to perform live is jazz.
"It's very much a function of or a process
of a musician expressing themselves," he said. "Improvising,
it's kind of like the composing process, except that you're
doing it on the spot. Musicians who are very good at that,
will, on the spot, be composing compositions that appeal to
John W. Barry can be reached at
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|Blog Critics Magazine (online)
Music Review: Indie Round-Up
Written by Jon Sobel
March 02, 2007
Pete Levin, Deacon Blues
The new CD by Pete Levin, the venerable New York synthesizer
and Hammond organ specialist (and brother of bass and
Chapman stick legend Tony Levin), is a set of pleasant,
energetic Adult Contemporary jazz with occasional bursts of
fusion energy. It's all very classy, but clean and
unthreatening, which isn't how I generally like my jazz.
Some situations do call for this kind of music, though, and
there's certainly plenty of talent on display here.
Levin's solid, tasty touch on the Hammond organ is the
constant, but longtime collaborator Danny Gottlieb's
pastel-colorful drumming - listen to his inspired, in-time
solo on "Icarus" - anchors the group on most tracks. Tony
Levin's rubbery bass leads the Jimmy Giuffre mood ballad
"Sad Truth," which also features a deep, delicate organ solo
"Eclipse," composed by the feathery-fingered guitarist Mike
DeMicco, is probably my favorite track - it goes just a bit
further out, and is the more satisfying for it. "Dragonfly"
(another Giuffre tune) brings the fusion, with even a little
touch of prog-rock. There's a selection of classic songs
too, adroitly given the smooth-jazz treatment. The Steely
Dan hit "Deacon Blues" and the Beach Boys' beautiful "Sail
On Sailor" both come out well, as does the standard "Mean To
Me." I could have lived without the overdone Satie piece -
jazzing that one up only makes it even more overplayed than
it already is. But on the whole, if you're in the mood for
this kind of music, this CD could be just the thing to
soothe your spirit without putting your mind to sleep.
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March 1, 2007
Pete Levin: Deacon Blues
By Shannon Holliday
Keyboardist Pete Levin breaks
new ground in this release, highlighting his skills on
Hammond B-3 organ. He is abetted by a talented selection of
musicians that includes guitarists Joe Beck and Mike
DeMicco; Levin’s bassist brother, Tony; percussionists
Carlos Valdez and Ken Lovelett; and drummer Danny Gottlieb,
original drummer for the Pat Metheny Group. The contemporary
jazz produced by this group is exploratory and
improvisational. The title track, made famous by Steely Dan,
is lushly interpreted in a shuffle-swing style, and provides
an ideal vehicle for Levin’s organ right from the start.
DeMicco’s "Eclipse" is a soulful seven-minute journey made
more exotic by a wash of chimes captured with precise
clarity. Perhaps most impressive is a cover of Jimmy
Giuffre’s "Dragonfly" -- a challenging, driving force of a
song propelled by Levin’s double-time tempo on B-3.
Deacon Blues is one album to turn up loud and listen to
in awe -- at a group of jazz masters having fun.
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A new stage
Pete Levin finds room to breathe
Rep's latest show
By Greg Haymes
Times Union, Albany, NY
March 29, 2007
"I stopped playing in theatrical shows a while ago, because
I'm just not comfortable playing the same thing the same way
every night, night after night," says jazz keyboardist Pete
That's the kiss of death for most jazz musicians, who thrive
on the thrill of free-spirited improvisation.
"For most stage shows, whether it's 'Oklahoma!' or 'Tommy,'
there's a book that's been worked out, and you play your
part exactly the way that it's written. I don't mean to make
that sound artistically invalid, because it's not; but it's
just not what I do.
"Fortunately, this is different," he says, explaining why
you'll find him playing the piano in the on-stage band
nightly for Capital Repertory Theatre's rousing production
of "It Ain't Nothin' But The Blues."
"The music is sketched out, but it's not dictated very
strictly, so there's plenty of room for individual
performances from the musicians, as well as interpretive
performance by the band."
After some coaxing, musical director and bandleader (and
sometime Times Union critic) David Malachowski recruited
Levin to play in the stage band. "David's a great guitar
player, and all six of the actors are also very strong
singers, which is a rare thing," Levin points out.
"In other words, this is a theatrical performance with all
of the lights and the choreography and everything, but the
music still breathes, so it's not going to be exactly the
same every night."
In fact, Levin had to take time off during the run of the
show to go to Mexico last week to play with the Tony Levin
Band – yes, the bassist is his brother – at the Baja Prog
Festival in Mexicali. Aaron Hurwitz (otherwise known as the
titular bandleader of Professor Louie and the Crowmatix)
filled in on piano at Cap Rep until Levin returned from the
road on Tuesday.
"Aaron is really very knowledgeable about the blues, and he
plays the stuff right," Levin says, "while I'm coming at it
from more of a jazz perspective."
Indeed, Levin is an acclaimed jazz veteran who has performed
and recorded with such world class pop stars as Annie
Lennox, Paul Simon and Robbie Robertson, as well as with
jazz greats miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Jaco Pastorius.
"For years, I was in Gil Evans' band, and I learned a lot
from Gil," says the soft-spoken Levin, who lives just
outside of Woodstock. "It was like going to school for 15
years. One of the many things that I learned was to let the
music take you where it wanted to go.
"He was one of the greatest jazz arrangers and orchestrators
of all time, and yet he wanted to allow his musicians the
freedom to make the music their own. Sometimes it
didn't work, but that didn't matter to him. It was about the
feeling, the vibe and the effort of what we were trying to
While he's doing the Cap Rep production, Levin is also
gearing up to promote his new disc "Deacon Blues" on the
Motema Music label; it's his first CD as a bandleader in
years. Backed by an ace band of musicians – including
guitarists Joe Beck and Mike DeMicco, drummer Danny Gottlieb
and his bassist brother Tony – Levin has crafted an elegant,
eclectic album on the Hammond organ.
"I've been playing the organ since the '60s, and I've played
in a lot of organ trios, but I had never recorded that way,"
Levin admits. "I just wanted to do it, and there was no more
of a reason behind it than that. I really did it for myself,
as a feel-good king of thing.
"My intention was just to press up a bunch of copies and
sell them at gigs or just give them away to friends. I had
no marketing plan at all."
He didn't have any particular plan, either, when he
concocted the album's diverse repertoires, ranging from the
Beach Boys' "Sail On, Sailor" to Ralph Towner's soaring
"Icarus" to the classical Erik Satie gem "first Gymnopedie."
Despite the wide range of song sources, the album positively
"If I'm making music, I want to try to add as much of my own
personality as possible to the musical tapestry within the
context of the performance – whether it's a blues band, a
jam band, or a band sitting in the pit at a theater. When
you put a song in front of me, I look at it and think, 'How
can I contribute?'"
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Artist: Pete Levin
Reviewed by: Thomas R. Erdmann
CD Title: Deacon
Record Label: Motema
Style: Soul / Funk Jazz
Pete Levin (organ), Joe Beck (guitar), Mike DeMicco
(Guitar), Danny Gottlieb (drums), Tony Levin (bass), Ken
Lovelett (drums and percussion), Carlos Valdez (percussion)
Keyboardist and synthesist Pete Levin is one of the more
interesting musicians working today. Known primarily for
his abundant technique behind a wall of synthesizers, he’s
been called upon to provide soundscapes, keyboard backdrops
and blazing fingerwork for artists such as Gil Evans, Ernie
Watts, John Scofield, Sting, Lenny White, Lew Soloff, Gil
Parris, New York Mary, David Sanborn, Rachelle Ferrell and
Paul Simon, to name just a few. Deacon Blues,
Levin’s ninth recording as a leader, is a total soul-jazz
freak out that is so hip as to render the term, henceforth,
On this recording, Levin performs solely on the Hammond
B-3, rocking immediately and throughout. From the opening
of the first tune, a workout of Donald Fagan’s “Deacon
Blues,” to the last note of the standard “Mean To Me,” Levin
and his cohorts not only don’t stop to take prisoners, they
run roughshod over the terrain leaving behind burned out
husks of life where their path tread.
Highlights include a ripping version of the Levin
original “Uptown.” His fingers light it up and his solo
digs so deep as to find China’s soil in his hands when he’s
done. Few musicians are able to meld fantastic and
phenomenal technique into solos so meticulously crafted, but
Levin nails it. Every note of his blazing solo is well
meant and placed, building logically to an exciting climax.
The Brian Wilson “Sail On Sailor” is just as incredible.
Note for note, Levin just doesn’t know how not to be
Accompanying Levin are rotating guitarists Joe Beck and
Mike DeMicco, drummers Danny Gottlieb and Ken Lovelett,
percussionists Ken Lovelett and Carlos Valdez and brother
Tony Levin on bass when Pete doesn’t handle those duties
himself from the B-3’s stool. On each and every tune, all
the musicians just as supportive and hard-driving as the
leader. On the guitar chair, Beck is more percussive and
punctuating in his guitar style and matches Levin precisely
on “Deacon Blues” and Ralph Towner’s “Icarus,” while DeMicco
seeks to splash more with extended chordal layering, each to
brilliant effect. With the addition of the drummers and
percussionists, who serve to work up an astounding implosive
drive on each and every tune, there just isn’t a bad cut on
Overall, this recording should do for soul-jazz what
Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods and Richie Cole have
done for bebop saxophone, give pause to others before
attempting even the thought of taking on the genre.
Tracks: Deacon Blues, Uptown, Sail On Sailor, First
Gymnopedie, Once Lost, Icarus, Sad Truth, Eclipse, Might
Have Been, Dragonfly and Mean To Me
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|Rochester City Newspaper
Apr. 4th, 2007
Pete Levin "Deacon Blues"
By Ron Netsky
Organist Pete Levin has been a vital force in the jazz and
pop music worlds since the 1970s. But if you know him, it's
probably through his work with others. He began on French
horn with Gil Evans, but once he brought a Moog synthesizer
to a practice his role - and career - changed. Since then
he's played keyboards for Paul Simon, Annie Lennox, his
brother, Tony Levin, and many others. Deacon Blues features
Joe Beck and Mike DeMicco on guitar, Danny Gottlieb, Ken
Lovelett, and Carlos Valdez on drums and percussion, and
Tony Levin on bass. All are stellar players, with DeMicco
and Beck soloing beautifully at every turn. But the obvious
star is Levin who, aside from providing some original
soul-jazz tunes (notably "Uptown"), takes the Hammond B-3
for wild rides on rock classics like Steely Dan's title
track, Brian Wilson's "Sail On Sailor," and a classical
classic, Erik Satie's "First Gymnopedie."
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|Nashville City Newspaper
March 23, 2007
RIFFS, By Ron Wynn
Pete Levin didn’t make his mark on the New York jazz
scene as an organist. Instead it was his ability on
synthesizer that was featured during his stint with Gil
Evans, and he also played that instrument during periods
backing Paul Simon and Annie Lennox. But he sounds right at
home on organ throughout his new CD Deacon Blues (Motema),
whether doing slow grooves, moving into bop territory or
doing contemporary pieces like “Once Lost,” where he
supplies a driving organ solo over a recurring drum loop.
“Sad Truth” mixes spry fretless bass lines from Tony Levin
with more fiery solos from Levin, while guitarist Mike
DeMicco is the featured second soloist on “Eclipse,” and
drummer Danny Gottlieb shifts from expert complimentary
percussionist to standout soloist midway through “First
Gymnopedie,” a jazz reconfiguration of Erik Satie’s
classical work. Guitarist Joe Beck soars on “Might Have
Been,” while DeMicco’s back in the spotlight on “Might Have
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Motema Music 8
by Ken Micallef
Synth specialist Pete Levin has veered into organ
territory. The New York artist has a serious keyboard
resume (playing with the likes of John Scofield, Miles Davis
and Gil Evans), so you'd expect him to lay down some real
grease and gravy on Deacon Blues, his 11th album as a
leader yet his first to embrace the Hammond B-3.
Instead, Levin goes for a more cosmopolitan approach, mixing
burners ("Uptown," "Icarus") with snore-inducing musings
("First Gymnopedie," "Sad Truth," "Might Have Been"), mellow
swingers ("Mean To Me," "Eclipse") and progressive
Levin and company play it cool for much of the album,
laying back when they should be charging, adopting a
predominantly mellow tone that smacks of too many sterile
studios and commercial jingle dates. But when the
group catches fire, as on "Dragonfly" and "Uptown,"
Deacon Blues glows with purpose. Drummer Danny
Gottlieb floats like a bee on the circuitously flammable
"Dragonfly," which also features some of Levin's best B-3
work, and everyone smokes on "Uptown," a classic organ trio
cooker. The date's a mixed bag, but one that still
offers some moments of white-knuckled heat.
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|Blue Railroad Magazine
Pete Levin: Deacon Blues
by Paul Zollo
He's one of the greatest studio cats around - he's played
synth and organ for a multitude of legends, including Paul
Simon and Annie Lennox, and most famously Gil Evans, with
whom he worked for fifteen years. Now here comes another
turn for Pete Levin to shine, this being his fourth solo
album, and it's a magical and soulfully swinging song cycle
that all fans of virtuosic jazz will seriously dig. Great
chops, great vibes, great time spent deep in the pocket of
the music. The man knows how to make a Hammond B-3 sing.
With about as solid of a crew of supporting players as any
musician could dream (his brother Tony Levin on bass, two
excellent and unique guitarists - Joe Beck and Mike DeMicco,
Danny Gottlieb on drums, Ken Lovelett on percussion & drums
and Carlos Valdez on percussion), this record cooks and
sizzles with high-life jazz intensity. It starts off with
Becker & Fagen's Steely Dan classic "Deacon Blues" (which is
inexplicably credited only to Fagen) on which Pete shows us
what he does best -singing the tune and comping on the cool
changes at the same time, his Hammond popping and bouncing
along this great slinky tune with a sunny elasticity that is
invigorating. Gottlieb's drums are the engine that drives
this machine; they are solidly soulful and swinging
throughout. And this guy on bass, Tony Levin - he's pretty
damn good. Nice of Pete to give his career a little boost.
His eloquence far surpasses any bass bluster. The man knows
what he's doing. Brian Wilson's "Sail On Sailor" is given a
lilting inflection that it doesn't have when performed by
the Beach Boys - Pete finds whole new dimensions in songs we
didn't even know were there. And he goes from Brian to
Satie, bringing us a breezy rendition of "First Gymnopedie"
with the guitars playing those famous major-seventh chords
as Pete lets the Hammond fly through this haunting melody.
It's an unusual, unexpected choice - and it works. His own
song, "Once Lost" erupts with a shining kind of streetwise
jazz wisdom and burning guitar that dances with Pete's
Hammond flourishes. Again, Gottlieb's drums on this are more
than rhythm - the man plays melodies on the skins. Ralph
Towner's "Icarus" resounds with the mythic grace of the
original, and allows brother Tony to do what he does best -
his bass lines over these hip, complex changes shows you why
he is who he is. He provides everything a great bass-line
should provide - he cooks with the changes, he swings and
percolates with the rhythm and he provides a stealthy and
inspired counterpoint to the melody and solos. He and Pete
lock into a lofty jazz journey that only siblings with
shared soul sensibility could achieve. And it all ends on a
happy note - Ahlert & Turk's 1929 exultant ode to joy, "Mean
To Me," on which Pete's playing soars with fervent swagger.
It's an ideal cathartic culmination to this triumphant
expedition into the heart of authentic jazz.
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by Bill Meredith
Keyboardist Pete Levin has remained under the radar,
especially when compared to bass-playing brother Tony Levin
(Peter Gabriel, King Crimson), by playing as a sideman and
working in TV and film over the past 40 years. Deacon Blues
is a rare solo release, and features the synthesizer
specialist playing Hammond organ exclusively.
Early cuts, like covers of Steely Dan (the title track)
and the Beach Boys (“Sail On Sailor”) succeed through
Levin’s interplay with drummer Danny Gottlieb and guitarists
Joe Beck and Mike DeMicco. Brother Tony contributes bass on
a few tracks, freeing up the keyboardist from his
simultaneous bass pedals and resulting in the disc’s best
performance, a creative Levin arrangement of classical
composer Erik Satie’s “First Gymnopedie.”
But unless your name is Jimmy Smith, Hammond organ is
difficult enough to make a compelling recording on, and
Levin gets undercut by his percussionists during the disc’s
second half. Beginning with the keyboardist’s “Once Lost,”
Carlos Valdez and especially Ken Lovett unleash a series of
overused wind chimes that would make a New Age
composer—which Levin has occasionally been during the past
Sequential compositions by Ralph Towner (“Icarus”), Jimmy
Giuffre (“Sad Truth”) and DeMicco (“Eclipse”) also suffer,
as does Giuffre’s “Dragonfly” near the disc’s end. Levin’s
remaining original, the sans-chimes “Might Have Been,”
should’ve been the title track—since Deacon Blues might have
been better with less overblown metallics or at least better
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Pete Levin, B-3 - Deacon Blues - Motéma
A B-3-based album with a difference
by John Henry
Pete Levin, B-3 - Deacon Blues - Motéma MTM 0008, 66 min.
(Peter Levin, B-3; Joe Beck & Mike Demicco, guitars; Danny
Gottlieb, drums; Tony Levin, bass; Ken Lovelett & Carlos
Valdez, drums & percussion)
Keyboardist/synthesist/arranger Peter Levin was a mainstay
of the Gil Evans Orchestra during the 1980s. He has also
been an in-demand session player on the NYC scene and this
is his ninth album since 1990 as a solo artist. In spite of
all the alternate electronics he has worked with over the
years, Levin says that his first love is the B-3 Hammond and
he wanted to return to his roots for this new album. He
feels "There's really no other sound quite like it. Even the
best synth simulations fall short."
Since Levin has been doing all sorts of other musical gigs
in recent years (including commercials and film and TV
scores) and hasn't been stuck performing regularly in a
typical B-3 trio format, he brings a fresh new approach to
his role as the band leader on this new disc. He has
expanded on the usual organ trio by adding a second guitar,
more percussion, and his distinctive arrangements are
flavored with samba, soul and even hip-hop. His brother Tony
is a veteran side man and solo artist, so using him on bass
is not nepotism. (30 years ago they fronted a Spike Jones
tribute band for a top-40 single which Peter still says was
his all-time favorite recording session.)
The tunes here
are not at all the typical ones you might hear on a B-3 trio
album. The opener and album title is the Steely Dan hit
Deacon Blues. The 60s Blue Note sound is prominent in the
next track, Uptown, and the Beach Boy's hit Sail On Sailor
has a nearly smooth jazz arrangement. One of Erik Satie's
Gymnopedies takes on a jazz waltz form, and another
unexpectedly welcome tune to my ears is Ralph Towner's
vehicle for the band Oregon, Icarus. Two Jimmy Giuffre
compositions grace the CD - another brave foray by Levin
into challenging compositional territory, but beautifully
handled. The 11th track brings things to a rousing close
with a strong B-3 trio treatment of Mean To Me. The whole CD
has so much more depth and density than the typical B-3 trio
album that most of the competition pales in comparison.
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The Review of Jazz & Blues: Creative improvised music
lf you're heavily into the music of Gil
Evans then you should know Pete Levin. The veteran
keyboardist was with the iconic arranger/composer for well
over a decade. The same could be said of the semi-forgotten
Jimmy Giuffre, with whom Levin spent a fruitful term of
employment. In fact, two of the latter's compositions, "Sad
Truth" and "Dragonfly", are included on Deacon Blues. For
this latest endeavor, the synthesizer whiz returns to one of
his primary loves, the organ, in this case a restored
vintage Hammond with Leslie cabinet. For the most part Levin
supplies his own bass lines except for four tracks which use
his brother, fairly famous Rock bassist Tony. The well-known
Danny Gottlieb handles drum chores on the majority of cuts
while the gifted Mike DeMicco and string vet Joe Beck split
lead guitar duties. Other than the Steely Dan title song, a
Beach Boy ditty, the Eric Satie title, "Eclipse" from Demicco, the aforementioned Giuffre pair, and the standard
"Mean To Me" (which proves these guys can go totally old
school), the rest come from the pen of the leader, who seems
to immensely enjoy this return to his roots. A nice
diversion from an always interesting musician.
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On The Record
Pete Levin: Deacon Blues
by Robin The Hammer
What we have here is a disc full of great
playing by masters of the trade. Besides Pete's
brother Tony Levin on bass, you get Joe Beck and Mike
DeMicco on guitar, Danny Gottlieb and Ken Lovelett on drums
and Carlos Valdez, percussion.
Pete Levin is a well known and in-demand
session guy, playing for acts as diverse as Annie Lennox,
Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Robbie Robertson and many others
of the same caliber. He played with Gil Evans for
fifteen years, Jimmy Giuffre for eight. He is known as
a synth wizard and an electronic visionary, but here he is
doing what he loves to do; playing the Hammond B-3.
The approach to the tunes is varied and
skillful. There is a lot of the old-time organ
instrumental sound of the '60s at first ("Deacon Blues," and
Pete's own composition "Uptown"), a little Jimmy Smith, a
little Ray Charles - a great sound. He plays
standards, new standards, drawn largely from the rock
repertoire ("Sail On Sailor"), but then there's Satie's
"First Gymnopedie." Then it shifts into all sorts of
things, from deep jazz composition to bluesy jazz-rock.
You will find throughout the record that Levin lays back and
features his players - the mark of a good leader. His
own "Once Lost" features Mike DeMicco's guitars, screaming
and tearing against modern hip-hop inspired rhythms.
There is a surprising take on Ralph Towner's "Icarus," and
several different moods are explored on Jimmy Giuffre's "Sad
Truth," DeMicco's "Eclipse," and Levin's "Might Have
Been," featuring Joe Beck. But the standout cut for me
was Giuffre's "Dragonfly," heavy heavy heavy, meditative
music! It all wraps up with an old Dixieland fave,
"Mean To Me," and it swings. The whole thing Swings.
All in all, a treat for fans of intimate,
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The Working Musician
More Sugar, March 2007
CD review by Roger-Z (01/20/07)
Motéma Music MTM-0008 (release date 03/20/07)
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
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 flavor. The band
grooves incomparably. The music breathes and you can feel
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 bar line. Dig the
catchy melody and percussion of the DeMicco 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?
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All Music Guide
by Ken Dryden
Pete Levin hasn't done a lot of recording
under his own name, even though he's been a professional
musician for decades. But this veteran of both jazz and pop
eschews musical boundaries in this wide-ranging outing on
Hammond organ, assisted by guitarists Joe Beck or Mike
DeMicco, electric bassist Tony Levin, drummer Danny
Gottlieb, and percussionists Ken Lovelett and Carlos Valdez.
From the world of rock, Levin offers a snappy, grooving
treatment of Donald Fagen's "Deacon Blues" and a laid-back
rendition of Brian Wilson's "Sail on Sailor" that borders on
smooth jazz. His catchy reworking of impressionist composer
Erik Satie's First Gymnopedie takes this familiar 20th
century piece into a completely new direction. Levin's
"Might Have Been" is a dark, bluesy vehicle for Beck. His
interpretations of two Jimmy Giuffre compositions also merit
praise. The playful conclusion is a straight-ahead setting
of the decades-old standard "Mean to Me." This is a fun
outing by a musician who needs to get under the spotlight a
bit more frequently.
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