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Levin Torn White: Levin Torn White

John Kelman By

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Pity poor Alan White. The British drummer had racked up plenty of street cred playing on projects by then-ex-The Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, Joe Cocker and Free's Paul Kossoff, when progressive rockers Yes came knocking in 1973, looking to replace Bill Bruford, who'd departed, on the cusp of massive commercial success, to join up with the more improv-heavy King Crimson. Forty years later, White is still working in a group that struggles for relevancy in the 21st century—still relying predominantly on music from its glory days of 1970-1977, despite releasing new albums like the tepid Fly From Here (Frontiers, 2011)—and, while proving himself to be a fine drummer, the Bruford comparisons continue to this day.

Torn Levin White won't do much to stop ongoing comparisons between White and Bruford, given that bassist/Chapman Stick man Tony Levin (another Crimson alum) and guitarist David Torn have worked with Bruford in the past, on Torn's superb Cloud About Mercury (ECM, 1985) and, more recently, in the short-lived Bruford Levin Upper Extremities group that, with trumpeter Chris Botti, released two superb albums around the turn of the millennium. But if White's playing has come under fire in recent years—accused of being at least partially responsible for Yes' funereally down-tempo'd live performances—then Levin Torn White should go a long way towards vindicating him. He may still lack Bruford's instantaneously identifiable personality, but he's playing with more fire—more hunger—than he has in years; clearly a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered.

Leaning further away from the free jazz proclivities of Prezens (ECM, 2007) and more towards the progressive rock end of the spectrum, Torn's ability to create dense sound sculptures has never sounded better. If there's a North American equivalent to the extra-guitar explorations of Norway's Eivind Aarset and the younger Stian Westerhus, it's Torn, his ability to soar into remarkable extremes of controlled feedback on "Ultra Mullett" matched by the stratospheric cloud cover hovering over "Convergence," where his strummed chords and snaking lines add a David Lynch vibe to this, one of fourteen cinematic explorations born of in-the-studio improvs shaped into discrete pieces in post-production, with the able assistance of co-producer Scott Schorr.

Levin has long since transcended the need to prove anything, but the ever-unshakable groove-meister is also at his recent best here, whether it's the fuzz bass-driven "The Hood Fell," which harkens back to "Cerulean Sea" on Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (DGM Live, 1998), or the tapped Chapman Stick-driven, metrically challenging "Monkey Mind," where White may not demonstrate the same mathematical, polyrhythmic complexities as Bruford, but rocks it with unbridled energy and the biggest sound he's ever had.

A powerful addition to the canon innovated by Torn, B.L.U.E. and the various ProjeKcts instigated by King Crimson's Robert Fripp as a means of wood-shedding new ideas, Levin Torn White not only feeds a jones for the more experimental side of instrumental progressive rock, it lays to rest all concerns about Alan White's Yes work—and suggests it's time the 62 year-old drummer be allowed to come out from under Bruford's long shadow.

Track Listing: No Warning Lights; Ultra Mullett; White Noise; The Hood Fell; Monkey Mind; Cheese It, The Corpse; Convergence; Pillowfull of Dark; The Eggman Cometh; Sleeping Horse; Prom Night of the Centipedes; Crunch Time; Brain Tattoo; Lights Out.

Personnel: Tony Levin: bass, Chapman Stick; David Torn: guitars, textural effects; Alan White: drums, percussion.

Title: Levin Torn White | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Lazy Bones Recordings

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