LIVE: The Levin Brothers @ the Van Dyck, 3/20/15
Review and photographs by Rudy Lu
The Levin Brothers are no strangers if you are an avid reader of album liner notes and tour brochures. Both of them have been very active first-call studio and touring band musicians since the ’70s.
Although probably best known as the bassist and Chapman Stickman for prog rock pioneers King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, Tony Levin has a vast discography that includes recording with everyone from John Lennon to Karen Carpenter, from David Bowie to Tom Waits, from Alice Cooper to the Bulgarian Women’s Choir.
Older brother Peter Levin’s resume is just as deep and diverse, stretching from Judy Collins to Bryan Ferry, from Salt ‘N Pepa to Miles Davis, from Annie Lennox to Gov’t Mule. He joined his brother on tour with Paul Simon in the ’80s and was originally a French horn player with the Gil Evans Orchestra before switching to keyboards.
In support of their long-overdue debut collaborative album, they are now touring as the Levin Brothers in jazz-based project inspired by the music that inspired them during their youth to pursue careers in music – the cool jazz of Oscar Pettiford and Julius Watkins. And that’s what recently brought them up to the Van Dyck in Schenectady from their Woodstock area homes.
Their music was melodic and light-hearted, and the songs were relatively short for jazz. All members of the band are virtuosos – including saxman Erik Lawrence and drummer Jeff Siegel, who rounded out the quartet – and there was plenty of room for them to blow. Solos were strong, economical and to the point, allowing each musician to add their own flavor to the music.
“I Got Your Bach” was a jazz interpretation of the baroque style of music that would have been barely recognized by JS Bach, but I’m sure would have brought a grin to his face. Not surprisingly, “Havana” was underscored by a Latin groove. And Tony introduced his composition “Fishy Takes a Walk,” explaining that it was inspired by a childhood goldfish that he imagined taking for a walk out of this bowl.
“Not So Square Dance” was reminiscent of the Dave Brubeck composition, “It’s a Raggy Waltz,” taking a dance rhythm and melody, but twisting and turning it in such surprising ways that made it a delight to listen to, but damn hard to dance to. Meanwhile, Pete dug into some deep-dish Hammond B3 organ blues/jazz with “Gimme Some Scratch.”
Nods were also given to the days when the Levins toured with others with strong covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair,” the Paul Winter Consort’s “Icarus” and Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” complete with quotes from John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”
Even though, the members of the band reside close together, the Levin Brothers’ self-titled album and consequent tour was 20 years in the making. Hopefully, they will have 20 more years of playing together whenever their busy schedules allow.