For a first crack at a fresh idea for Lazy Bones Recordsthree well-known musicians brought together to create improv-based music with a minimum of planningLevin Torn White (2011) was a set that, beyond finding common ground amongst bassist/stick master Tony Levin, guitar sound sculptor David Torn
and drummer Alan White, also proved, unequivocally, that White is capable of far more than he's demonstrated recently with his longstanding membership in the overly inflated dinosaur of Yes. But Levin Minnemann Rudess is an even better outing, if for no other reason than the two musicians associated with Levin this time around are even more impressive, both from sheer instrumental mastery and in their ability to shape a far more focused 65-minute set of thrilling material that leans even more heavily into progressive rock territory with complete aplomb and no shortage of reckless abandon.
It should come as no surprise, given the trio's collective pedigree. Aside from Levin's decades-long history with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson
, drummer Marco Minnemannwho seemed to burst onto the scene early in the new millennium with the same relentless vitality that he demonstrates in his playing, ranging from his Normalizer 2 project, which gave a 51-minute drum improv to artists like Mike Keneally
, who then composed music around it, in Machacek's case the superb 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010)is currently on a career crest, bringing almost impossible virtuosity and ingenuity to The Artistocrats, which also features guitar phenom Guthrie Govanlike Minnemann, a member of Steven Wilson
has been a full-time member of seminal progressive metal band Dream Theater since 1999, but encountered Levin in Liquid Tension Experiment and has released a series of solo recordings, including an impressive progressive rock covers album The Road Home (Magna Carta, 2007).
So with such a group of players sharing a more common bond in composition, is it any surprise that Levin Minnemann Rudesss is a far more focused affair? Largely instrumental, the music possesses far more intrinsic structure than Levin Torn White; briefer pieces like the gritty, drum-heavy "Afa Vulu" feel more jam predicated, but longer tracks like the eight-minute "Service Engine," are more episodic and clearly composed. Beginning with Levin's crunching bass riff, Minnemann's powerfully intuitive support and Rudess' wizardry on a huge array of keyboards, the album closer covers considerable territory, from arpeggio-driven passages reminiscent of Rudess' early gig with The Dregs and knotty, time-shifting complexities also featuring Minnemann's overdubbed guitar work, to mellotron-drenched anthemics, and an arena-level coda that suggests this trio really ought to get out and gigthough it would probably need some additional musicians to recreate the album's manifold layers.
It's a rich and potent brew of Levin's various basses, stick and cello, Minnemann's never-the-same-way-twice drumming and surprisingly strong guitar work, and Rudess' combination of stellar sonics and visceral virtuosity. Its predecessor was impressive, but didn't necessarily beg a follow-up; with Levin Minnemann Rudess it would be a real shame if this were just a one-off project. More, please.
Track Listing: Marcopolis; Twitch; Frumious Banderfunk; The Blizzard; Mew; Afa Vulu; Descent; Scrod; Orbiter; Enter the Core; Ignorant Elephant; Lakeshore Lights; Dancing Feet; Service Engine.
Personnel: Tony Levin: basses, Chapman Stick, cello; Marco Minnemann: drums, guitar; Jordan Rudess: keyboards, continuum, wizardly noises & seaboard.