Sea Level – Same (1977)

FrontCover1Sea Level is the name of a Southern rock/funk/fusion jam band that mixed jazz, blues and rock and existed between 1976 and 1981. Initially it was an offshoot of The Allman Brothers Band, but as tensions grew between the loss of two of its founding members and personal grievances between Gregg Allman and other band mates and associates, Sea Level took on a life of its own as an independent band.

After the initial breakup of the Allman Brothers Band when Gregg Allman and Dicky Betts left, most of the remaining members who evolved into Sea Level were the trio “We Three” comprising bassist Lamar Williams, drummer Jaimoe and Chuck Leavell (piano, keyboards, vocals). The trio would occasionally open shows for the group in 1975 and 1976. With the Allmans disbanding in 1976, the trio added guitarist Jimmy Nalls and named the band based on a phonetic pun of their new bandleader Chuck Leavell’s name: “C. Leavell.” They toured relentlessly, experimenting and refining their sound, eventually signing with Capricorn Records (home of the Allman Brothers) and recording their self-titled debut album in 1977.

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After the release of their first album, the group expanded to a septet with the additions of Davis Causey (guitar), George Weaver (drums, percussion) and Randall Bramblett (saxophones, keyboards and vocals). That configuration recorded the group’s second album, Cats on the Coast, in 1978 (which produced a moderate “hit” with “That’s Your Secret”). By the time of the third album, On the Edge, Jaimoe and Weaver had both left, replaced by Joe English. The sextet of Bramblett, Causey, English, Leavell, Nalls and Williams recorded the fourth album, Long Walk on a Short Pier (1979), unreleased in the United States for nearly twenty years, adding percussionist Matt Greeley for their fifth and final album, Ball Room, issued on Arista in 1980. Their greatest hits album (CD) wrapped up their body of work, minus a handful of appearances on various compilation albums (mostly Southern Rock). They were also featured on a 1978 live Southern Rock album which included a live version of “Grand Larceny.”

Sea Level02Leavell later emerged as a much sought-after session musician and producer, touring with Eric Clapton and eventually becoming a “permanent” session player touring with the Rolling Stones.

In 1998, he issued his debut solo LP, a Christmas album called What’s in That Bag? and more recently Forever Blue that includes solo versions of two classic Sea Level compositions: “Whole Lotta Colada” and “Song for Amy.” He also released Southscape, an album of Southern anthems that hearkens back to his Southern roots. (by wikipedia)

ChuckLeavell

Keyboardist Chuck Leavell formed the Sea Level quartet in 1976 in the aftermath of the Allman Brothers’ first breakup of their post-Duane Allman years, and since two other Sea Level members had also been in the Allmans — bassist Lamar Williams and original Allmans drummer Jaimoe — it was tempting to regard the band as an Allman Brothers spinoff, but that wasn’t exactly the full story. Jaimoe and Williams had played together before the Allmans formed, and Sea Level guitarist Jimmy Nalls had been part of Alex Taylor’s band — which also included Leavell — before both Leavell and Williams had joined the Allmans in the wake of the deaths of Duane and original Allmans bassist Berry Oakley, so the four musicians of Sea Level might be seen as simpatico even outside the Allman Brothers narrative. Of course, the Allmans sound was a major touchstone for Sea Level; certainly, Leavell’s pianism had reached its largest audience ever with his solo break on “Jessica,” and he would bring similar stylings to his quartet’s 1977 eponymous debut album. But Sea Level didn’t need to stand in the shadow of any other group, as the debut made clear. The opening track, the Leavell-penned “Rain in Spain,” is as driving and melodic as any Allman Brothers instrumental but also possesses a jazzy harmonic sophistication beyond what the Allmans might have attempted in the lead-in to their first breakup, and the same goes for other instrumental tracks like Leavell’s “Tidal Wave,” the Neil Larsen composition “Grand Larceny,” and certainly the moody, sensitive read of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Scarborough Fair.”

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Leavell also wrote the swampy, funky “Nothing Matters But the Fever,” with wah-wah slide guitar from Nalls, woozy, disorienting effects on the piano, and a fine vocal turn from Leavell as well, a bluesy cry from the soul that never crosses the line into histrionics. Another pleasure of this album derives from Jaimoe’s role as sole drummer/percussionist; for those who had only heard him as half of the Allman Brothers’ powerful drum tandem with Butch Trucks, his inventiveness, drawing from jazz, blues, rock, soul, and funk idioms, stood out on Sea Level in a way that was revelatory for many listeners. Sea Level was a fine debut from a killer quartet, and with the addition of singer/songwriter and saxophonist Randall Bramblett, guitarist Davis Causey, and drummer George Weaver to the lineup for the recording of the sophomore album Cats on the Coast, it did not seem unreasonable to surmise that this band’s future possibilities were nearly without limits. (by Dave Lynch)

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Personnel:
Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, percussion)
Chuck Leavell (keyboards, vocals)
Jimmy Nalls (guitar, vocals)
Lamar Williams (bass, vocals)
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horn section:
Charles Fairley – Earl Ford – Leo LaBranche – Rudolph Carter – Donald McClure

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Tracklist:
01. The Rain In Spain (Leavell) 6.47
02. Shake A Leg (Hoerner) 3.53
03. Tidal Wave (Leavell) 5.40
04. Country Fool (Leavell) 3.39
05. Nothing Matters But The Fever (Leavell) 7.20
06. Grand Larceny (Larsen) 5.22
07. Scarborough Fair (Traditional) 5.32
08. Just A Good Feeling (Leavell) 3.01

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