Pete Levin is best known to jazz fans as the synthesizer player in Gil Evans’ band for 15 years beginning in the early ’70s. (He initially played French horn in the group.) He also played keyboards for eight years in the Jimmy Giuffre 4. In addition, his career includes live and studio performances with Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Paul Simon, Jaco Pastorius and many others. In 2007 he revisited his roots in the Hammond organ with Deacon Blues, a trip he continues with this year’s Certified Organic, except here he uses Nord Clavia keyboards.
Levin and drummer Harvey Sorgen are the constants on each track, with a shifting cast of guitarists (John Cariddi on four cuts and Mike DeMicco, Jesse Gress and the late Joe Beck on two each). Saxophonist Erik Lawrence appears on two tracks (Pastorius’ “Teen Town” and Levin’s “Out of Darkness”), percussionist Ernie Colon on four and percussionist Ken Lovelett on one.
One way to describe Levin’s style is to say what it isn’t—namely Jimmy Smith, Joey DeFrancesco or Dr. Lonnie Smith. It’s darker, with fewer over-the-top climaxes. And it’s still full of good linear development and hip grooves. The blend of guitar and organ offers colors that differ from other organ trios. “Where Flamingos Fly” is a case in point, on which Beck and Levin capture the swampy essence of Gil Evans’ version on his Out of the Cool album. All the guitarists are appealing throughout the album, with fine command of jazz-rock and obvious respect for Levin. Lawrence, son of the late alto man and teacher Arnie Lawrence, plays alto on “Teen Town” and soprano on “Out of Darkness,” adding an element of raw soul to the performances.