After decades of playing together in other projects, Tony Levin has finally got together with his brother Pete Levin, a keys player and a synthesizer specialist in the New York City recording studio scene who has graced hundreds of jazz and pop recordings and performances including by artists such as Miles Davis, Gil Evans, David Sanborn, Don Elliott, Charles Mingus and Annie Lennox, to release the first ever “Levin Brothers” album in celebration of the 50’s ‘cool Jazz’ they grew up with.
With the “Levin Brothers” album to be officially released by Lazy Bones Recordings on September 9, 2014 on Compact Disc and on September 16, 2014 on vinyl LP, Metal Wani’s writer Vimukthi Karunaratne took the opportunity to interview the legend himself, Tony Levin, regarding the album.
I’m doing great, thank you. I’ve had one of my busiest years ever, playing great music on tour, which is what I love to do. (I toured this year with The Crimson ProjeKCt, with Stick Men, with Peter Gabriel, and next week will start King Crimson tour.)
And, a big milestone for me, finishing and releasing an album with my brother Pete. We’ve both been musicians for a LONG time, but this is our first release together, and it’s really special for me.
I loved the style of the jazz I heard while I was young and just starting to play the bass. The songs were short, and they were really ‘songs’ in that you could hum them — likewise the solos are short in that style – it’s like each player plays his very best stuff and then moves aside for the next guy. So the songs, then and now on our record, are 3 or 4 minutes long, and we could fit a lot of the compositions onto our release.
All the songs are new ones we wrote for this album, but in the style of those 50’s pieces. The one exception is “Matte Kudasai” – a King Crimson ballad that I really like. I put that on because I knew a lot of Crimson fans would check this album out, even if they don’t usually listen to jazz, and I thought it’d be nice to give them something they know. And it also shows what a nice piece that is, that it can hold up very well in a jazz setting.
We had a great time – we work well together, and are close both as family and musically. (Even though we haven’t made a Levin Brothers album together, we’ve toured and recorded together on other albums through the years.) We handled the musical decisions, which can sometimes be rough in a band, easily. It involves respect for each others musicality, and a willingness to share the ‘control’ aspect of making a recording. We’re fine with that because, hey, we’re brothers!
Steve is not only an old friend, he’s also the one who mentored me when I started playing jazz, back when we were in (Classical) music school together. He really taught me how to do those grooves – so it seemed really right to bring him into this ‘classic’ recording, especially for the piece “Bassics” because it focusses on the drums and bass together, and because it’s, well, … basic!
Really excellent players – all have done a lot of recording on jazz albums with Pete. We chose the sax player (Erik) carefully, because some of the ballads really require a wonderful sound and texture from the sax (like the Dave Brubeck Quartet of the 50’s, when the ‘voice’ of it was Paul Desmond’s sax). And I felt that Erik did a great job at that — I can’t wait till we tour together with the music.
What was the experience like recording at NRS Studio in Catskill, New York and working with Scott Petito? How was Larry DeVivo able to add to the magic of the album at the Silvertone Mastering in Saratoga Springs, New York?
Scott is an excellent jazz player (bass) on his own, so having him to do the engineering made things go a lot quicker — he speaks ‘the language’ when we’re talking about sections and feels. ANd his studio is the favorite spot of jazz groups from all over. We’re lucky to have that resource in our area.
For ‘mastering’ the record, it’s important to me to have the best. I’ve had a lot of experience with that end of the record making process. Larry, at Silvertone is, indeed, an expert, and also works with his clients to give us the best of both worlds – his expertise and our wish list for the little tweaks on the sound you usually want at the end.
I still treasure my jazz albums from the 50’s, and the back usually has pictures of the guys playing and talking – always wearing black suits and ties. So, I thought, this time let’s really get into the feel of it by dressing that way ourselves. Honestly, I can’t tell you whether it affected the music, but it was a hoot for us, and it certainly gave the photos a vintage look.
The Levin Brothers album is offered in a limited edition vinyl as well. Could you tell us about that?
We have touring commitments with other bands thru the end of the year — then we’ll speak with agency about booking shows with the Levin Brothers Band. Too early to know what areas we’ll tour, but we will do it. Locally (because we live near each other) we’ve always played club dates when not out on tour, and we’ll continue to do that.
There have been a few times I ALMOST got there on tour, and I was disappointed when it didn’t come through. I tour a lot around the world, but have not yet been to India, and it will be great when it happens. As for the music from India, I’ve heard a bit, from playing with L. Shankar, and Peter Gabriel – but there’s nothing like really being there to get a sense of the way music is done.
We at Metal Wani are extremely honored to have had the opportunity to interview an artist of your stature. Thank you for your valuable time. Would you like to add anything else for our Metal Wani readers?
Thank YOU for your attention to our music. All I can add for your readers is that I love the chance to share music, of all kinds, with people around the world who share that interest. I really do feel that it brings us closer together, removes the barriers between us, and reminds us that there can be a better world.