Pete Levin: Certified Organic (2008)
Mike DeMicco is back from Deacon on Levin's modal fusion workout, "Patience," where the guitarist's grungy tone turns a potentially ethereal track more visceral, and "When I Was Young," a lithely swinging tune that updates guitar icon Wes Montgomery's early '60s organ trios. Joe Beck, who sadly passed away in July 2008, also returns for a dark take of the Kennedy/Spolansky ballad, "Where Flamingos Fly" and Levin's "The Face in the Mirror," its slightly countrified waltz time a reminder of just how versatile this sadly undervalued guitarist was, despite leaving a significant recorded legacy.
Levin's own multifaceted nature drives the record, starting from the get-go with his funkified "I'm Falling," where guitarist John Carridi's chunky rhythm playing locks hand-in-glove with drummer Harvey Sorgen's in-the-pocket groove. Levin solos with the organ-equivalent of Scofield's uncanny ability to take things out just enough to create a palpable release when he brings it back in, while Carridi's overdriven solo is bop-inflected but blues-centric. Moacir Santos and Mani Telles' "Nana" is equally funk-driven, but percussionist Ernie Colon provides a link to its Latin roots, while Levin winds his way through a potent vamp and some more challenging changes.
While grabbing a larger chunk of compositional credit this time around, Levin also finds new approaches to popular tunes. "Love 4 Sale" takes Cole Porter's classic to unexpected places with a combination of some surprising re-harmonization, shifting feels and, after Levin's extended and dynamically building solo, a clean-toned turn from Cariddi that again blends bop with plenty of blues edge.
But it's Levin's arrangement of Jaco Pastorius' often-covered "Teen Town" that's Certified Organic's biggest surprise. Usually a bass workout, this time the knotty but singable theme isn't its primary focus; it's a steadily-building trade-off between Levin and saxophonist Erik Lawrence. With it, as with all of Certified Organic, Levin ups the ante and aims to increase his visibility as a leader. Demonstrating undeniably fine skills as composer, arranger and performer whose reach goes well beyond Certified Organic's groove-happy veneer, it's an album that easily places Levin in the same company as Larry Goldings, Gary Versace and Dan Wall.
Track Listing: I'm Falling; Nana; Love 4 Sale; Patience; Teen Town; Where Flamingos Fly; Out of Darkness; When I Was Young; The Question of U; The Face in the Mirror.
Personnel: Pete Levin: Nord Clavia keyboards; John Cariddi: guitar (1-3, 7); Mike DeMicco: guitar (4, 8); Joe Beck: guitar (6, 10); Jesse Gress: guitar (5, 9); Erik Lawrence: saxophone (5-7); Harvey Sorgen; drums; Ernie Colon: percussion (1-3, 5); Ken Lovelett: percussion (4, 6).
Record Label: Pete Levin Music