Keyboardist and synthesist Pete Levin is one of the more interesting musicians working today. Known primarily for his abundant technique behind a wall of synthesizers, he’s been called upon to provide soundscapes, keyboard backdrops and blazing fingerwork for artists such as Gil Evans, Ernie Watts, John Scofield, Sting, Lennie White, Lew Soloff, Gil Parris, New York Mary, David Sanborn, Rachelle Ferrell and Paul Simon, to name just a few. Deacon Blues, Levin’s ninth recording as a leader, is a total soul-jazz freak out that is so hip as to render the term, henceforth, meaningless.
On this recording, Levin performs solely on the Hammond B-3, rocking immediately and throughout. From the opening of the first tune, a workout of Donald Fagan’s "Deacon Blues," to the last note of the standard "Mean To Me," Levin and his co-horts not only don’t stop to take prisoners, they run roughshod over the terrain leaving behind burned out husks of life where their path tread.
Highlights include a ripping version of the Levin original "Uptown." His fingers light it up and his solo digs so deep as to find China’s soil in his hands when he’s done. Few musicians are able to meld fantastic and phenomenal technique into solos so meticulously crafted, but Levin nails it. Every note of his blazing solo is well meant and placed, building logically to an exciting climax. The Brian Wilson "Sail On Sailor" is just as incredible. Note for note, Levin just doesn’t know how not to be incredible.
Accompanying Levin are rotating guitarists Joe Beck and Mike DeMicco, drummers Danny Gottlieb and Ken Lovelett, percussionists Ken Lovelett and Carlos Valdez and brother Tony Levin on bass when Pete doesn’t handle those duties himself from the B-3’s stool. On each and every tune, all the musicians just as supportive and hard-driving as the leader. On the guitar chair, Beck is more percussive and punctuating in his guitar style and matches Levin precisely on "Deacon Blues" and Ralph Towner’s "Icarus," while DeMicco seeks to splash more with extended chordal layerings, each to brilliant effect. With the addition of the drummers and percussionists, who serve to work up an astounding implosive drive on each and every tune, there just isn’t a bad cut on the disc.
Overall, this recording should do for soul-jazz what Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods and Richie Cole have done for bebop saxophone, give pause to others before attempting even the thought of taking on the genre.