LIVE: Levin Brothers @ the Van Dyck, Schenectady 1/9/2020
Back in 2014, Pete and Tony Levin decided to go back to their roots and produce an album of the ’50s Cool Jazz they listened to in their youth. Since then, they have toured whenever their collective busy schedules would allow behind the Levin Brothers album. This night marked the third time they’ve appeared at the Van Dyck in the ensuing years.
The original lineup of the album included Pete Levin on Keyboard, Tony Levin on bass, Jeff “Siege” Siegel on drums, and Erik Lawrence on Sax. Each of these musicians has extremely impressive resumes. Tony is best known as the bassist for King Crimson as well as stints with Peter Gabriel, while Pete cut his teeth with the Gil Evans Orchestra and has toured or recorded with such diverse acts as Blood, Sweat and Tears and Salt ‘n Pepa. Siegel has played with many top Jazz musicians including Mose Allison. Rounding out the quartet for this tour is guitarist Jeff Ciampa who has shared the stage with the likes of Harry Belafonte and Dave Matthews.
As the foursome weaved their way through the full dining room to the stage, it was apparent this evening was going to be slightly different than past shows Gone was the dark suits they wore for previous appearances revealing a more relaxed and casual tone for the 2+ hour show. As they picked up their instruments they laid into a smooth as glass Pete Levin composition, “Out Of Darkness.” They followed up with a series of Jazz arrangements of cover tunes, Jimi Hendrix’s “Up From The Skies”, was up first with Tony picking up the melody on bass. Next Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.” Pete’s solo had airs of “My Favorite Things.” Pete then announced the next song, Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” saying, “I have to tell you what it is because it’s Jazz, you might not recognize it.” Marking the beginning of the self-deprecating quips throughout the night. Then it was back to a Pete Levin original, “Kakilambe”, an African rhythm built slowly from Siegel’s auxiliary percussion to Pete’s keys sounding like a marimba, to guitar riffs evoking images of the African jungle and finally to bass all melding into beautiful imagery of tribal dancers celebrating around a fire. The rest of the evening bounced between covers and originals playing, as Pete said, whatever they wanted. They ranged from traditional Jazz progression such as “When I Was Young” to the Funky “Hidden Drive.” Culminating in a nod to Tony’s other band King Crimson with “Sleepless” where Tony carried the heavy duties using a looping pedal and playing his solo along while the rest of the band sat and watched.
In previous shows, I’ve enjoyed Lawrence’s touch on both sax and flute. His feel brought a nice depth and counterpoint to Pete’s keys. As mentioned above, this tour features Jeff Ciampa on guitar. He brought a sharper, harder, edge to the set which came to a head on the encore, Paul Winter’s “Icarus” where he really cut loose.
The whole night was a wonderful display of talent and musicianship. A few minutes into the show, I casually checked my watch and was shocked to find an hour and a half had gone by in a flash. I’ve enjoyed their previous stops at this venerable site and this show was no exception. To paraphrase an old saying, “I may not know much about Jazz, but I know what I like… and I like this. “