2013-09-28

Album Review: Levin Minnemann Rudess

When I saw Joe Satriani in concert on September 6th, he took to the microphone at one point to call touring drummer Marco Minnemann the hardest working musician in the world. When I saw The Aristocrats perform in August, Bryan Beller noted that Minnemann seems to release "an album a year." His extensive discography spans every conceivable music genre, and includes session work, and group and solo compositions with musical legends the likes of not only Satriani, but Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Andy Partridge of XTC, Eddie Jobson, Adrian Belew, Paul Giblert, Terry Bozzio, etc. etc. etc...

Basically, the guy is a monster. If he can make my drum-hating, rock-hating wife love a drum solo, then he clearly has super-human musical ability.

That musical ability is on full display on the new album by, and entitled, Levin Minnemann Rudess. This time, Minnemann is jamming it out with one of the best-known, best-loved bassist in rock music history, Tony Levin, and the keyboard player from none other than Dream Theater, Jordan Rudess.

Those of you familiar with each musicians' discography may go into this album suspecting something like Liquid Tensions Experiment, the Levin/Rudess super-group that also included fellow Dream Theater musicians John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, the project that spawned the 21st Century incarnation of Dream Theater, the album that introduced the prog rock world to Jordan Rudess in the first place. To be sure, considering that half the members of LTE make up two-thirds of the LMR band, that influence is there. But if you're hoping LMR to follow in the footsteps of the free-jam shred-fest that made up both LTE albums, you had better adjust your expectations.

The album consists of decidedly prog compositions, including all the lovely hallmarks that attract prog fans like myself: time signature changes, song feel changes, instrumental virtuosity, and that unmistakable prog ambiance. The conspicuous sidelining of the electric guitar, however, enables the trio to explore prog-rock territory not fully explored since the 70s. The drums/keyboards/bass core of LMR certainly hearkens back to the days of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Even the albums only two vocal lines, which appear at the very end of the album and are sung by Minnemann, suggest a sort of ELP feel. It's unavoidable that such a comparison would be made, I suppose. But it's important to clarify that the comparison comes more from similarities in ensemble construction than compositional elements. This album is no throwback to the glory days of prog, this is new music played in new ways.

Each of the album's fourteen songs - a delightfully large helping of music, by super-group standards, by the way - seems to start from an underlying groove of some sort, and to that end the band seems happy to explore all possible combinations of foundational grooves: drum/bass, bass/keyboard, keyboard/drums. The band layers various textures, keyboard solos, call-and-response, and all the trademarks of great modern improvised jams, but manages to keep the songs in line. Rather than meandering across the vast expanse of jazz/fusion, the songs are kept tightly in line with the underlying grooves and melodies upon which they are based. Thus the band succeeds writing instrumental music with that elusive balance between melodic approachability and explosive free-form virtuosity.

Hence, LMR presents itself as a strong addition to the discographies of three musical legends while also breathing some fresh air into the progressive rock super-group world at a time when the world seems mostly focused on Miley Cyrus' tongue. I give this album full marks for creativity and execution, and I highly recommend it.

Additional information can be found at the band's website, http://www.levinminnemannrudess.com/