For Tony Levin, jazz-focused Levin Brothers presented ‘a fun challenge’

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Tony Levin and his sibling Pete are used to making music with some of the biggest names in music. Tony is, in fact, currently out on tour with Peter Gabriel — having just finished a round of shows with King Crimson. The similarly well-regarded Pete Levin, meanwhile, has worked with Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus, among many others.

So, to hear that a new Levin project includes a pair of Paul McCartney sidemen in David Spinozza and Steve Gadd comes as little surprise. It’s that Tony and Pete are featured along side with one another. The new jazz-focused Levin Brothers album, out on Lazy Bones, somehow represents their first extended studio collaboration.

Tony Levin, in an exclusive Something Else! Sitdown, takes us to the genesis of this Scott Schorr co-produced effort, and talks about the possibility of future projects with Pete Levin …

NICK DERISO: It’s difficult to believe you and your brother haven’t yet recorded a full-length project, with your shared history of music making. Were you simply too busy back then? What made it happen this time?
TONY LEVIN: I guess it’s been on the back burner for us — something we’d like to do, but not a priority. It jumped to front of the line when I started heavily practicing my cello, the NS Electric Cello to be specific. I was trying out all the cello music I know, and remembered the jazz cello pieces by bassist Oscar Pettiford that we listened to a lot as kids. I was amazed that I remembered almost all of the songs, and solos, and when I mentioned it to Pete, he remembered them too. French Horn had been his first instrument, and the great Julius Watkins was playing horn on those records. So, we thought it’d be great to write new songs, but very much in that style, and to have his keyboard and my cello and bass be the main melody instruments.

NICK DERISO: What were the challenges with this new style?
TONY LEVIN: The style, called cool jazz, features melodic songs and short, melodic solos — making each track three minutes or so, rather than the five-to-six-minute tracks we usually do. It was a lot of fun writing material, passing it back and forth for improvements, as I further practiced the cello. After about two years, I felt almost ready — but I suspected I might never feel completely ready, so it seemed time to get into the studio and hit the record button.

NICK DERISO: It must have been difficult modulating into shorter solo windows — or did previous work with Buddy Rich serve as a finishing school for this album?
TONY LEVIN: It wasn’t difficult to stay in the style and, as you say, keep the window short. Must admit we were tempted at times to stretch further out, but it’s a fun challenge, when soloing, to do your best stuff, then move aside for the next player. The playing I’d done with Buddy was very different. I’d say if I called on any jazz playing I’d done, it was more the playing with Chuck and Gap Mangione, and Gary Burton — though that was all on Fender bass, and with an upright bass sound it’s much easier to fit into a traditional jazz feel.

NICK DERISO: Can you see yourself recording with your brother again? Would you consciously move into another area of your shared muse — something closer to the work you’re most famous for elsewhere?
TONY LEVIN: Though you can never predict the future easily in music, I’d guess that Pete and I will do more albums, and in this style.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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