Some music, just by the act of listening to it, makes you feel cooler. A great jazz organ trio can do that with ease. Whether it’s Jimmy Smith, Richard “Groove” Holmes or Pete Levin, those syncopated stabs and walking basslines on the Hammond B3, when percolating with brushed drums and warm electric guitar, have the power to relax the mind and stoke the imagination.
As the fleet-fingered Levin saunters and swings through the mentholated grooves of “Exclamation!,” “That Was Then” and “The Big Dog Is Always Right,” the listener is suddenly in some smoke-filled corner bar, circa 1960, decked out in a sharkskin suit and a Dobbs lid. And as if he or she needed any more fuel for the way back machine, Levin even covers Mingus’ aptly titled “Nostalgia in Times Square.”
Remarkably, the B3 is not Levin’s first instrument. In the ’70s, he got his start playing French horn with Gil Evans, then branched out as one of jazz’s first synthesizer specialists. His work with a wide array of artists across the spectrum, from Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter to Paul Simon and Annie Lennox, influences his own compositions, which are both harmonically interesting and immediate. And his choice of covers reflects a playful sensibility, from Doctor Doolittle’s “Talk to the Animals” to Tin Pan Alley chestnuts “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Alone Together.”
Bandmates drummer Lenny White and guitarist Dave Stryker get plenty of room to stretch out-Stryker’s solo on “That Was Then” is especially lovely-but mostly this is Levin administering one long, invigorating shot of B3 cool.