August 2008

Pete Levin - Certified Organic
P-Lev Inc. PLM008
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

One of my favorite CDs from last year was Pete Levin’s Deacon Blues, an unpretentious, wholly enjoyable disc of swinging soul jazz featuring Levin on Hammond organ. Levin covered a wide variety of material and included some unique pop-music choices, like the title track and the Beach Boys’ "Sail on Sailor." On his new disc, Certified Organic, he tries his hand at Prince’s "The Question of U," highlighting the tune’s blues pedigree. Levin played synthesizer with Gil Evans for 15 years, where he seems to have learned how to use space and texture, even when arranging for a smaller group. His take on "Where Flamingos Fly," an Evans perennial, is spare and heartfelt, with effective percussion touches provided by Ken Lovelett.

Levin brings a fresh ear to Jaco Pastorius’s "Teen Town," an oft-recorded tune that he rejuvenates, and he turns in a hard-swinging version of Cole Porter’s "Love For Sale." Levin generously shares solo space with the other players on Certified Organic, including the four guitarists (John Cariddi, Mike DeMicco, Joe Beck, and Jesse Gress) and saxophonist Erik Lawrence. Beck’s performances on this and the previous Levin disc have caused me to reevaluate his playing. He has loosened up considerably, and his work has a deeper blues edge than it did in the past.

Certified Organic is a good description of the recording quality of the disc, which is clean and unfussy. Levin contributes five compositions, all of them memorable. Certified Organic is brainy, soulful, and great fun.