Adam Levy & The Mint Imperials 2.8.12
New York, NY
Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock
Heading to New York for a week for work and not seeing some live music would have been a huge blunder on my part. I was hoping for a simple show... what I got was an insider tour of a unique jazz scene in the capital of the world. In my college days I used to run around with ulu, a jazz band hailing from the Big Apple. I got a hold of Josh Dion their former drummer who picked me up in his massive van for a night of live music. When I got in the van he looked more akin to Jim Morrison than the fresh-faced skin smacker I knew the better part of a decade ago. We drove a short distance to a venue called Joe’s Pub, which unlike its mundane name might suggest, was actually a pretty swanky room. We went inside and found a seat by the bar just as Adam Levy took the stage.
Adam Levy is not a name that stirs up much fervor out in Colorado but he is a well-known jazz guitarist and singer-songwriter in New York City. Having played with Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Sex Mob and Amos Lee, his solo material is nothing short of stellar. Billed as a CD release show for his new album The Heart Collector, the show became a guest-ridden affair with several sit-ins throughout the set. Utilizing elements of rock, Americana, country, folk, blues and most prominently, jazz, Levy showed a craftsmanship to his playing and song-writing that is rarely seen out here on the Front Range.
His backup band dubbed "The Mint Imperials," consisted of Andy Hess and Tony Mason. Andy Hess is a name I know well given his membership in Gov’t Mule after The Deep End sessions, as well as his playing with John Scofield. He has also performed live with Joan Osborne’s band and done session work for David Byrne and Tina Turner. Tony Mason is a quintessential New York drummer and has performed or recorded with Norah Jones, Cyril Neville, Joan Osborne, Charlie Hunter and many more. The three-piece was a solid foundation for the performance and had a very urban feel to their presentation. The show was so much more intricate than I am used to. The crowd remained almost silent for the duration of the concert except for some eruptions of applause after a solo or the end of a song.
As mentioned above, this could have been an Adam Levy and Friends show because there were several other players who made it to the stage. Chris Masterson sat in on "Placeholder" and Adam did a solo Americana jam with Ana Egge on "There’s A Light." These tracks showed a real dedication to songwriting and a subtlety that I don’t hear in my more jam-fueled endeavors. He went into a song he penned for Norah Jones, which he also recorded himself entitled "In The Morning." This was when my ears really started to perk up. I had heard the version with Jones and his was so much grittier and raw, but with incredibly clean picking. This juxtaposition made for a very enjoyable rendition. Eleanor Whitmore joined the band on violin for a tune about a dopamine fiend before he closed the set with what could be seen as his theme song, "Got My Joy." It became a big sing along as the show ended on a truly positive note.
He encored the show with a track off of his album Washing Day entitled "I Can Promise You That" before The Mint Imperials left Adam alone to sing the title track from The Heart Collector solo, per request of the audience. I have a hard time quantifying what I witnessed with this show. It was a very New York experience even though Levy has called both New Orleans and Los Angeles home. From the little club that charged five bucks for a diet coke, to the stoic crowd, to the inclusion of solid New York players in the band, it just felt like a night out in the city. It was an intriguing experience overall and I want to thank Josh Dion for exposing me to it. If you like well crafted songs and delicate playing, I would highly recommend checking out The Heart Collector and Adam Levy. I often get wrapped up in the scene out here in Colorado, but it’s nice to know that people do it differently everywhere.