Multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Levine has been a fixture in the pop and soul music worlds for decades. As a keyboardist, saxophonist and producer, he has worked with such legendary artists as Sly & the Family Stone, Al Green, Rick James, Teena Marie, Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin and Herbie Hancock, and has made a name for himself as an A-Lister session musician.
His status in the music industry was exemplified when he decided to record his own Thump Records debut, Share My Love. After years of supporting others, he found himself inundated by stars willing to support him on the disc. Musicians such as Ray Parker, Jr., Everette Harp, Wah Wah Watson and Ray Fuller as well as top flight singers Howard Hewett, Maysa, Phil Perry, Kenda Hathaway, Lori Perry, Phillip Ingram and others came together to provide real firepower for Levine's soul/jazz project. European audiences responded immediately to the album, taking it to the top of the Sweet Rhythm Chart for a couple weeks in early 2007, while Levine introduced it more slowly in America.
Share My Love is an enjoyable combination of jazz licks and soul vocals, as it combines covers of classic R&B songs with new Levine compositions. The obvious standout cut is a hot remake of Switch's "There'll Never Be," with Hewett providing his typically memorable vocals. The other covers are a mixed bag, with the misses ("Reunited") generally being overshadowed by the hits ("You Are My Heaven" and a nice reworking of Aretha's "Wonderful"). But while radio may focus on Levine's take on soul standards, the most pleasant surprises on the album are his original tunes, especially the excellent title cut.
Many older artists in the soul and jazz worlds now feel compelled to provide listeners with familiar songs, and the 70s soul vaults have been raided a few too many times over the past few years. Fortunately, the generally hot arrangements on Share My Love keep it interesting and avoid many of the normal traps into which recent covers albums have fallen. But the real gems are the new songs, which are gutsier than typical smooth jazz fare and which listeners should embrace even more than the classic soul tracks. We're looking forward to hearing more original music from Levine in the future as he continues his long-deserved transition from session man to headliner.
By Chris Rizik