A couple of years back keyboardist and composer Pete Levin put forth Certified Organic, the second in a string of Hammond B-3 jazz records he's recently taken an interest in making. It was a thoroughly enjoyable set, one that sizzled and simmered in all the right places, and we had a great time expounding on its virtues. The album featured guitar great Joe Beck on a couple of tracks, who unbeknownst to me when our review published on July 24 of 2008, he had sadly passed away due to complications from lung cancer just two days before. That was surely a blow to his old friend, Levin.
However, Levin is back again with his third record that's riding that same organ groove, Jump!, which he released on his own Pete Levin Music label on September 26. The B-3 righteousness of Certified Organic whetted my appetite enough for this one, but seeing the line-up he used for this latest one got me even more amped up. Instead of using a revolving cast of session characters, Levin stuck with the same guys throughout, with one exception (which I'll get to later): former Weather Report percussionist Manolo Badrena, Return To Forever drummer Lenny White and one of the finest soul-jazz guitarists working today, Dave Stryker.
As before, Levin developed a program of originals with some covers that alternately shows off both his compositional and interpretive skills. And once again, Levin updates the greasy goodness of Jimmy Smith and Richard Groove" Holmes to make it more palatable to contemporary audiences while maintaining an edge that steers it clear of smooth jazz. He is acutely aware of the talent he's surrounded himself with, letting these cats play up to their immense abilities, but also knows when to use the B-3 to take over the proceedings and when to lay back and supply a soul soothing backdrop.
Most of Levin's five originals are loaded up in the front end, starting with a couple of burners in Jump!" and Exclamation!" before dialing it down to a cool blue flame for That Was Then." That second track has a particularly in-the-pocket solo by the leader, but it's Stryker who sends these songs over the top. Stryker can get real funky 70s style as he does on Jump!" or get into his unsurpassed Jack McDuff moods for tunes like That Was Then." The Big Dog Is Always Right" begins with a riff that may have been rewritten from Grover Washington hit Mr. Magic" (or maybe not), but it shares the same infectious strut and the chords dropped tactfully between the beats.
Of the covers, the Freddie Hubbard standard Little Sunflower" works the best. Slowed down to a spacious, epochal tone poem, Levin's bass pedal work here is central, a counter rhythm working in tandem with White's nuanced drum work and Badrena's precise percussion. The last cut is a gently swinging run-through of Honeysuckle Rose" that features Beck on guitar and original Pat Metheny Group drummer Dan Gottlieb on drums. Levin and Beck had cut this cover as a duo the year Beck passed away apparently never intending to release it. However, in a tribute to his departed friend, Levin later brought in Gottlieb to round it out with drums and Gottlieb's track slides in perfectly. Beck's tasteful and funky solo makes one miss him about as much as Levin does.
Pete Levin continues on an B-3 roll with Jump!, and once again makes a very solid groove record. Jump! is how 21st century soul-jazz is done right.
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