Aaron Levinson: Dancing On 'Em & Love You

Somehow Dancing On 'Em feels all sincere while the balladry of Love You is bad-boy vibes

Aaron Levinson: Dancing On 'Em & Love You

Drummer Aaron Levinson, known in Vancouver for coming up as a member of the Rossi Gang and now based in New Orleans, has two new releases out on streaming that showcase his straight-ahead organ jazz ensemble. The first one is Dancing On 'Em, and the title says it all. I remember hearing Cyrille Aimée's version of "Love for Sale" on Emmet's Place – the Second Line groove, key of F minor, energetic – after Teighan Couch showed it to me. That was the reference recording when I played the song with Teighan, and here we go with Levinson's opening track, "Love for Sale".

The jovial unison saxes and organ trio welcome us into an upbeat project. I enjoy both altoist Connor Stewart and tenorist Julian Lee's unison alto-tenor playing as well as their harmonized playing across the tracks – there's excellent trombone from Miles Lyons, too, the kind you'd want to hear from a sextet at Frankie's.

Yes, the drums are a bit compressed: they play loud and have fun! It sounds like they're interested in Larry Goldings, and sometimes they show affinity for the energy of a Norman Granz at Massey Hall type of thing. The vocabulary in the organ solos is much more Joey DeFrancesco with that double-timing bounce; track two is called "Blues for Joey D".

The huge bass drum takes up quite a bit of space versus the guitar way down in the mix with an acoustic tone. That dancing sound is true to the project's title. But then Levinson released Love You, another EP, and that title sets the pace as well. It's My Funny Valentine to his Four & More: all ballads.

"I Love You Yes I Do" has a strong, romantic alto sax. When I was checking out the style of alto saxophonist Sarah Hanahan before she played here in January 2024, I listened to podcasts where she would listen on-air to her idol Jackie McLean, hear him play a soulful phrase, and exclaim, "Sing it!" And that's what Levinson's fellow expat, Connor Stewart, does off the top here with an organ trio.

They continue with a faithful version of "My Ideal" with piano, but not organ, from keyboardist Zack Knewstub. There's a piano unaccompanied moment into track four, and track five is organ quartet with a much softer alto than "I Love You Yes I Do". This subdued ballad couldn't be more different from how Stewart kicked off track one. There's one note that he hangs on to for a beat too long to the next chord, but I love it.

There's been a swinging presence from Vancouver in New Orleans for decades, and now a new generation of our folks have been making themselves audible often. Most of the band across the two projects had played on Stewart's own album Woah! released last year. And if that's not enough, Guitarist Mike Clement and John Lee on organ – also credited on bass here! – hook up on Clement's recent Cellar album, Hittin' It.

Somehow Dancing On 'Em feels all sincere while the balladry of Love You provides the bad-boy vibe. (Is it the "STOP" and "DEAD END" on the cover, to the right of the lover?) From his kit and as the leader, Levinson delivers two distinct moods across these two projects that both surely reflect what you'll get from him on any given night when he plays live. If and when he makes CDs of either of these, you'll have to contact him directly to buy them.

Dancing On 'Em

Dancing On 'Em released Dec. 1, 2023 / Available on streaming

Love You

Love You released Feb. 19, 2024 / Available on streaming