Levin Minnemann Rudess

Levin Minnemann Rudess

Lazy Bones Recordings, 2013


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


The thing about these sorts of all-star projects is that, while one would like to believe otherwise, talent is no guarantee of results. Plenty of well-known players have gotten together over the past 40 years and made tepid, forgettable music together between other gigs.

Of course, that also means that when you arrive at the exception—an album that showcases each of the superb players involved at the top of their game, and finds them not just playing together, but challenging and feeding off of one another, aspiring to a whole that’s greater even than the sum of its considerable parts—you’ve got the makings of something very special.

Levin Minnemann Rudess is first of all a really interesting combination of talents: keyboard maestro Jordan Rudess of prog-metallers Dream Theater; the prodigious Marco Minnemann, Steven Wilson’s drummer-of-the-moment, who’s no slouch on guitar, either; and possibly the most universally respected bass player in the rock universe, Tony Levin (King Crimson, several other prog-fusion combos, and literally thousands of sessions).

Whatever my expectations going into this album, they surely didn’t include an opening track that sounds like a midnight rumble between Deep Purple Mark II and Miami Vice-era Jan Hammer. What’s quickly established, though, is that with the inventiveness—and adventurousness—of this trio, and with Minnemann doubling on drums and guitar, the potential is there for just about anything to happen. Said opener (winkingly named “Marcopolis”) is dynamic to the extreme, switching tempo and tone and adding and subtracting elements over and over. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Same goes for the next pair, “Twitch” and “Frumious Banderfunk.” You could call this progressive fusion, but truthfully, it’s uncategorizable. It’s intense, sometimes it rocks, sometimes it’s very jazzy, sometimes it’s spacy or even whimsical, and sometimes it takes on a harsh industrial tone. “Frumious” starts off with an almost heavy metal duet between Minnemann (on drums) and Minnemann (on guitar) before Rudess comes in. Later on, the magic of synthesizers allows Rudess to play steel drums against muted trumpet—all on his keyboards, and all in service of the song. What comes through is unfiltered joy at playing together; it’s obvious that each of these guys really admires the other two as players and rises to meet every challenge thrown down by the other two.

Parts of some of these tracks do feel like pure jazz-rock fusion—the early part of “Mew,” and much of “Lakeshore Lights,” for a couple—but much of the time this trio seems to be in the process of inventing its own hybrid genres. “Orbiter,” “Enter The Core” and “Dancing Feet” all feature a sort of spooky-dreamy vibe with sci-fi overtones. “Scrod” and “Ignorant Elephant” in particular carry echoes of the sort of headlong, fearless experimentalism that Crimson has always been known for, full of dark corners, hard angles, and a marked disdain for musical boundaries.

My favorite moments, though, could be found in the way Levin’s elastic bass lines hover around and under Rudess’ rainbow of keyboard colors on “Afa Vulu,” and in the expansive range of the closing mini-epic “Service Engine.” The latter is a nine-minute suite whose dark, industrial opening morphs into a lighter, airier series of movements that’s very classic-proggy and evolves into an epic middle segment with a bit of a Moody Blues flavor, featuring dramatic, sky-large synthesized orchestrations and a brief flicker of distorted vocals. At the very end they cycle back around to a bit of an industrial thrum before an abrupt finish in which the trio essentially pulls the rug out from under the song.

Messr.s Levin, Minnemann and Rudess have beaten the odds here, delivering an album that’s far from a novelty item; rather, it’s an intense, exhilarating ride through the musical imaginations of three prog virtuosos, a master course in composition, arrangement and performance from a trio of players at the top of their respective games. I can’t say I loved every moment of this disc—and if that means my conventional side is showing, so be it—but respect it? Damned right I did.

Rating: A-

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© 2013 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Lazy Bones Recordings, and is used for informational purposes only.