They’ve spent their years in respective virtuosic backgrounds playing with a round-robin of legends and icons. Now, the time has come for brothers Pete and Tony Levin to come center stage and show off their undisputed chops to the world.
Levin Brothers is an album that should have been made possible years ago. When you combine Tony’s rock and funkified bass stylings with Pete’s Ellington-inspired piano and organ melodies, the result is something on par with musical ambrosia, needing to be savored. Even its cover – a straight, shadowy black and white photo of the Levins – epitomizes cool.
The Levins’ classical roots mean that there’s no need for improvisation or long-winded solos here. Instead you get a hearty portion of tightly cohesive songs that merge the best of Bach with the pace of bop. This is an album that’s sure to light up the Cafe Carlyle or Carnegie Hall if it’s ever taken out on the road.
The brothers back up their sound with a peppy crew of players, including session drumming legend Steve Gadd on two tracks, but what makes the album stand out is the brilliant interplay between upright bass and keys. It’s clear the two Boston boys are communicating using their own unique language, one that takes on slight twists and turns but always produces happy results.
Where “Bassics” is sly, “Brothers” and “Brookline Boyz” are as upbeat as something from the prime Booker T. and the MGs era. There’s also a fine bit of Latin infusion here with “Mysterioso” and “Havana.” Then there’s “Jumpin’ Jammies” which instantly awakens the spirit of Charlie Parker. Meanwhile, the Levins’ take on the atmospheric King Crimson [whom Tony is currently touring with] tune “Matte Kudasai” is refashioned as a poignant and peaceful number as Tony’s bass hits climb registers once sung by Adrian Belew.
History has shown that musical chemistry between siblings can either prove terrific or volatile. On this album, the closeness can truly be heard and felt as the songs laid down show how one brother thrives off the other. Here’s hoping the Levins give us “Part Deux” sooner rather than later!
– Ira Kantor