LIVE: The Levin Brothers @ WAMC-FM’s The Linda, 6/12/15
Review by Steven Stock
Video by Timothy Reidy
Great musicians are not always bound by the laws of physics, and so the Levin Brothers had little difficulty transporting an appreciative audience about 60 years back in time at The Linda in Albany on Friday night, to an era when jazz musicians came onstage clad in suits and skinny ties, solos were short and sweet, and not every drummer felt obliged to play as loud and long as Art Blakey.
The Levin Brothers are a quartet from the Woodstock area: Tony Levin alternating between an NS upright bass and an NS cello, Pete Levin on a Nord Electro organ, and ringers Erik Lawrence on sax (and occasional flute) and Jeff Siegel on Gretsch drums. Tony is best known for his longtime alliances with King Crimson and Peter Gabriel both in the studio and on tour, along with session credits ranging from Lou Reed to Pink Floyd, while Pete has performed with Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Jaco Pastorius and Wayne Shorter.
Their latest project – the Levin Brothers’ self-titled album (available on both LP and CD) and the tour to promote it – pays homage to their lifelong love of cool jazz. Tony specifically cites Julius Watkins, Oscar Pettiford and Gerry Mulligan as inspirations, while Pete was so deeply affected by Watkins that he actually began his career playing French horn before switching to keys.
The quartet opened with a brace of appealing original tunes off the new album: “Special Delivery,” “I Got Your Bach” (borrowed from the first movement of “Cello Suite No. 1”), “Jumpin’ Jammies,” “Havana,” “Cello in the Night,” “Not So Square Dance” and Tony’s showcase “Bassics.” This opening salvo was a statement of intent really – this is the music we came to play, we certainly hope you enjoy it, but if you came expecting an evening of King Crimson tunes you may be disappointed.
Next up were a couple of challenging covers of tunes by Watkins/Pettiford and Gerry Mulligan that helped put the originals in context. The band followed with some newly written material – not on the album – seemingly designed to feature each player. “Pete’s Blues” was a simmering organ showcase mining an unpretentious Hammond B-3 vein, while Lawrence’s “Weight of Action” was enlivened by a gorgeous solo from the composer. Then back to Tony for “To Bow or Not to Bow,” which alternated plucking with bowing courtesy of the world’s shortest but most versatile bow, the finger-bow.
Interestingly, rather than using their covers of pop tunes to hook the audience early in the set, the Levin Brothers saved them for the end. First up was a lovely rendition of King Crimson’s “Matte Kudasai” taken at a beguiling, languorous pace, showing once again how drummer Jeff Siegel’s understated playing is integral to the success of this band.
Next came a modal exploration of Paul Simon’s (another former boss of the Levins) arrangement of “Scarborough Fair.” Tony has been playing “Don’t Give Up” for thirty years now, first in the studio for Peter Gabriel’s commercial breakthrough So and on most of Gabriel’s subsequent tours. Lawrence played the vocal part on sax and perhaps consequently this version was less schmaltzy than Gabriel’s and ultimately more moving. The evening was capped by a not-at-all cool version of Paul Winter’s “Icarus” in a stunning new arrangement from Pete.