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Presenting his follow-up to the well-received debut, From The Heart (Rhombus Records, 2008), Miami-based pianist/composer Mike Levine offers a lively set of primarily original material on Thinking Of You, full of rich melodies and harmonies in a wonderful artful production of smooth jazz. A first-call and in-demand musician, Levine has performed with many jazz giants in the last 30 years, including saxophonist Tom Scott, harmonicist Toots Thielemans, and trumpeters Randy Brecker and Ira Sullivan, as well as being a part of the Jaco Pastorius Big Band. Primarily a sideman, Levine has been content staying just a tad under the radar rather than seeking the limelight of a national stage. Much of his musical background has been performing straight-ahead, contemporary and modern jazz.
Nevertheless, with this second outing as leader, Levine builds on his previous recording and cements a reputation within the smooth jazz landscape as a major star deserving of the spotlight he so often eludes. Appearing on the album are no less than twenty musicians who make South Florida their home, many only playing on one or two tracks, with the Miami Symphonic Strings also performing on two pieces. The extensive personnel list includes special guest saxophonist Billy Ross, of the early Ross-Levine Band, saxophonist great Ed Calle, and veteran bassist Will Lee.
The ball starts rolling on an upbeat note with the feisty "Gettin Ready" and continues on the toe-tapping "Walking Tall," with both Lee and Calle accompanying the pianist, along with hefty percussion from Richard Bravo and drummer Lee Levin. The music adopts a more mellow tone on the lovely "It's Just Right," featuring Levine on piano and synthesizer. Warm melodies are also present on the light "You're The One," featuring Calle's soft and tender tenor voice against the supportive background play of the Miami Symphonic Strings.
With the first of the set's two covers, the pianist truly shines with a soulful performance of the Nat Adderley standard "Work Song," with guitarist Lindsay Blair lending some wonderful riffs. Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's classic "Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered" receives a beautiful interpretation featuring vocalist Wendy Pedersen and the pianist's delicate dance on the keys.
Levine's funky side comes out on the gyrating "Table Top" but does not last long as the music seeks a calmer smoother jazz outlet on such pieces as "After Dark," and "Island Dream," before turning south on the slightly bossa rhythm of "Sooner Or Later." Leaving the best for last, the session ends with the gorgeous title track, highlighted by saxophonist Ed Maina on a high alto solo against the strings and Levine's parting piano phrases.
Levine distinguishes himself on Thinking Of You, not so much because of his skills on the piano, but rather his talents as a composer of music that is not just smooth jazz, it's great jazz.
Track Listing: Gettin Ready; Walking Tall; It's Just Right; Get Away; You're The One; The Work Song; Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered; An Endless Afternoon; Table Top; After Dark; Island Dream; Sooner Or Later; Thinking of You.
Personnel: Mike Levine: pianos, synthesizers; Will Lee: bass (1, 2); Ed Calle: tenor saxophone (1, 2, 4, 5); Billy Ross: flute (8, 12); Lee Levin: drums (1-5, 8, 10, 13); Dan Warner: guitar (1-5, 10, 11, 13); Julio Hernandez: bass (3-5, 7, 13); Richard Bravo: percussion (1-4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12); Rafael Valencia: bass (6, 8, 9); Sam Levine: drums (6, 7, 9); Lindsay Blair: guitar (6, 8, 9); Nick Orta: bass: (10-12); Aaron Lebos: guitar (7); Wendy Pedersen: vocals (7); Dana Teboe: trombone (2); Jeff Kievet: trumpet (2); Carlomagano Araya: percussion (10); Nelson "Flaco" Padron: percussion (8); Tony Concepcion: Flugelhorn (8); Ed Maina: alto saxophone (13); Gary Lindsay: string arrangements (5, 13); Miami Symphonic Strings (5, 13); Alfredo Oliva: concert master (5, 13).