It may look good on paper, but you can never really know how "super group" collaborations are going to work out until they actually get together and do
something. In the case of the power trio named after its membersbassist/stick player Tony Levin
, King Crimson
, Stick Men
), drummer/guitarist Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson
, The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani
) and keyboardist Jordan Rudess
(Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment), all names familiar to progressive rock fansit would seem a low-risk proposition, given that there was already some inherent chemistry, with Levin and Rudess members of Liquid Tension Experiment, and every member proving themselves capable, over the past decadeor, in the case of Levin, five-plus decadesas leaders, band mates and compositional collaborators capable of just about anything.
With such a beyond-impressive collective pedigree, it should come as no surprise that the trio's 2013 debut recordinga project instigated by Australian-based Lazy Bones Records' label head and producer, Scott Schorr, simply titled Levin Minnemann Rudess
was such a critical and popular success; a rare feat for a (progressive) rock instrumental album. So much so, in fact, that it seemed that a follow-up was inevitable, assuming the trio could find time amidst hectic recording and touring schedules with Peter Gabriel and the reunited King Crimson (Levin), the Aristocrats and Joe Satriani (Minnemann) and Dream Theater (Rudess). As it turns out, the trio found a way to work around busy touring schedules...but more about that later.
The first, most important question is this: is the more wittily titled From the From the Law Offices of Levin Minnemann Rudess
more of the samehardcore instrumental rock with tendencies towards the progressive with, at times, some hints of jazz (largely fusion-heavy) thrown in for good measure? Perhaps so; but with musicians as eminently virtuosic as these three are while, at the same time, possessing an unerring ability to find and lock into any available groove? Plain and simple, From the Law Offices of Levin Minnemann Rudess
is every bit as good as Levin Minnemann Rudess
...possibly even better.
For From the Law Offices...
, the trio reprises the more composition-heavy focus of its debut, which drew unfair comparisons with Lazy Bones' other Tony Levin-inspired project, Levin Torn White
(2011), which brought Levin, guitarist/producer David Torn
and currently-on-hiatus Yes
drummer Alan White together for a more improv-heavy session that, while very good, didn't possess the lasting power of Levin Minnemann Rudess
perhaps because of the very nature of its less compositional focus. Levin Minnemann Rudess
was a more memorable album because, amidst all the muscular playing, irregular time signatures and light-speed pyrotechnics, there were actual songs
with, in some cases, eminently accessible grooves and/or melodies. From the Law Offices...
continues the first album's approach from the first moments of the album- opener, "Back to the Machine," where a riff based on The Beatles
' "Paperback Writer" is turned into an even harder-rocking progressive piece, filled with lengthy thematic constructs, some surprisingly terrific guitar playing overdubbed by Minnemann, and a high octane synth solo from Rudess that makes clear, in addition to his arsenal of other keyboards, that this is a player who knows how to build solos from the ground up.
"Ready Set Sue" is another example of Levin and Minnemann finding a booty-shaking pocket amidst an even more complexly metered tune, though it's not long before the tunedespite its inherent compositional detaildemonstrates not a single note, phrase or texture that's superfluous, despite the tune being filled with layer upon layer of ear candy that is never less than essential to the song's overall complexion. If anything, keeping the fourteen-song, sixty-minute collection of material co-composed by all three musicians over the period of twelve months, largely under five minutesonly three exceed it, but are still shy of six minutes; while five tracks don't even make it to the four-minute markmeans that there may be plenty of high velocity music, but it feels like every note, every sound, every pulse has a perfectly intended place.
"Riff Splat" is Levin Minnemann Rudess at its most hardcore, its aggressively fuzz-toned guitar power chords and harsh synth washes layered over a 5/4 pulse driven by Minnemann's thundering drums and Levin's sinewy stick. Building to a potent climax, the song concludes with a dynamic drop, with Rudess' mellotron and Levin's funkified electric bass creating a softer foundation, over which Minnemann adds surprisingly spare punctuations, before the three come together for a brief but head-banging, metal-tinged finish.
But From the Law Offices of...
is not all about fiery energy and aggressive playing. Rudess' The Road Home
(Magna Carta, 2007) was also, in addition to being a remarkable tribute album to the groups that informed the keyboardist when he was growing up (King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Emerson, Lake & Palmer
), a showcase for some wonderful grand piano, and while synth ultimately takes over as the lead instrument, it's Rudess' impressive, clearly classically trained piano work that defines "Marseille." Elsewhere, Minnemann's finger-picked acoustic guitars sets the stage for "Balloon," a lovely ballad that tips its hat to mid-'70s King Crimson songs like "Exiles" and "The Night Watch"though Crimson never used the kinds of synths Rudess employs to give the song its lead voicewhile "Witness" is a piece of industrial-tinged fusion; Rudess' synth solo is easily an album highlight, soaring over Levin's unshakable pulse and Minnemann's frenetic but still (as always) locked-in kit work.
It's not always easy to identify who is doing what; the upper register of Levin's stick crosses over Minnemann's guitar work, which pervades much of the record; elsewhere, what might seem to be Minnemann's occasionally Allan Holdsworth
-informed, whammy bar-driven guitar work is actually Rudess, utilizing his own GeoShred app (developed by the keyboardist for his Wizdom Music company).
Still, all three players have long since developed voices that make their work on the album unmistakable. At 70, Tony Levin has gone from a jazz-loving session player who worked, in his youth, with everyone from Gary Burton
and Mike Mainieri
to Herbie Mann
and Buddy Rich
but, after another decade of session work for pop/folk artists including John Lennon
, Paul Simon
, Kate & Anna McGarrigle and Joan Armatrading, the bassist/stick man has ultimately become best-known for his work in the progressive rock world. Still, every experience he has amassed working with musicians across a myriad of musical styles has turned him into a musician capable of fitting into any musical context and, perhaps most importantly, find a groove anywhere
Minnemann may be a generation younger than Levin at 45, but his own résumé is still plenty broad: beyond recording and touring with Steven Wilson, his own Aristocrats (with fellow Wilson alum, guitarist Guthrie Govan
) and work with guitarists Satriani, Alex Machacek
, Mike Keneally
and Adrian Belew
, the drummer has built a sizeable discography on his own, ranging from extended solo drum improvisations to singer/songwriter records and everything in-between.
Rudess' careersitting comfortably between his band mates at nearly 60has been more closely aligned with Dream Theater since joining the group in 1997, but the keyboardist has had plenty of opportunities to expand his horizons recording and/or touring with artists ranging from the Dixie Dregs
and Steven Wilson (2011's Kscope set Grace for Drowning
), to the more improv-heavy Liquid Tension Experiment (with Levin, in addition to the keyboardist's DT mates, drummer Mike Portnoy
and guitarist John Petrucci) and, perhaps most surprisingly (but then again, perhaps not), saxophonist Paul Winter
, whose longstanding Winter Consort was an early meeting ground for future members of Oregon Ralph Towner
, Paul McCandless
, Glen Moore
and Collin Walcott
The end result is a trio capable of just about anything, as it demonstrates, perhaps more than anywhere else on the fusion-centric "Shiloh's Cat," where a sudden saxophone solo encourages a quick look at the CD booklet, only to discover there is
no guest saxophonist on the track. Instead (as suspected, but confirmed by Schorr), this is Rudess, again using his own app to create a sound that mirrors the horn with frightening precision. That, in and of itself, is just technology; but it's Rudess' capturing of the subtle nuances that differentiate a real horn (or a real guitar) from an emulator that makes this sound so gob-smackingly authentic. They're not kidding when, in the CD booklet, they credit Rudess with "Wizardly Sounds." From the Law Offices of...
is also remarkable in that the three musicians never met to record any of the album together in the same room...not once. Instead, as is so often done these days, From the Law Offices of...
was recorded in pieces, individually at each musician's home studio. With a greater understanding of each other as players and composers, however, it has allowed them to collaborate even more successfully on From the Law Offices of...
than on the trio's undeniably impressive debut album; for example, Levin might hear a guitar part sent by Minnemann, to which the bassist would then be inspired not only to add his own ideas, but to make suggestions as to how the composition could further unfold in ways Minnemann might not have thought possible. But beyond the way that Levin, Minnemann and Rudess collectively co-composed the music of From the Law Offices of...
from a distance, the album also possesses an electrified, vibrating, live
energy that's especially impressive given how it's those very things that are often the casualty of today's piecemeal approach to music-making.
It's hard to imagine Levin Minnemann Rudess actually touring without the addition of several other musicians to cover the sometimes dense layers of From the Law Offices of...
's program, but it sure would be a sight to see and hear. In the meantime, From the Law Offices of Levin Minnemann Rudess
not only suffices as another impressive entry into this still-nascent group's discography; it also demonstrates that these three musicians still have plenty left to say together. Whether or not the opportunity to see this group live is possible remains uncertain; equally unclear is whether or not Levin Minnemann Rudess will flesh out their first two records into a trilogy.
One can only hope.
Back to the Machine; Ready, Set, Sue; Riff Splat; What is the
Good Day Hearsay; Witness; Balloon; When the Gavel Falls; The
Radicals; Magistrate; Shiloh's Cat; The Tort.
Tony Levin: basses, Chapman Stick, cello, guitar (3); Marco
guitar; Jordan Rudess: keyboards, GeoShred, Seaboard and Wizardly