Liquid Tension Experiment — Liquid Tension Experiment
(Magna Carta MA-9023-2, 1998, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 1998-07-01
Having lost interest in Dream Theater after their second album many years ago, this writer wasn’t certain what to expect from an instrumental collaboration between two guys from that band (guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy), bassist / Stickmeister Tony Levin (with a list of credits and collaborations probably second only to Bruford), and Jordan Rudess, keyboardist on recent Dregs tours and one half of the Rudess Morgenstein Project (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). A half minute into the opening cut “Paradigm Shift” my worst fears seemed to be confirmed — relentless double-bass drum thumping and hundred-note-per-second amelodic guitar runs, with bass and keyboards mixed well into the background. Fortunately, about four minutes into this tune things turn really nice and pretty much stay that way for the rest of this seventy-four minute disc — the keys and bass come in to share the spotlight and the guitar finds a more melodic sense of purpose — It’s sort of like these bad boys had to get the metal out of their system on the first track. The balance of the album works a variety of instrumental landscapes from stratospheric guitar rock (“Freedom of Speech”) and melodic instrumental ballads (“State of Grace”) to jazz tinged funk (“The Stretch”) and ethnic ensemble work (“Osmosis”), with outstanding writing and playing by all. While the melodic work is fairly straightforward, and nothing here is particularly complex, the melodies are nonetheless solid and memorable, and delivered with a passion that seems missing from much of the so-called progressive rock of today. All players here seem to know how and when to back off and give the others their space to perform, a level of professionalism that is refreshing. The album closes with the smokin’ half-hour improvisation “Three Minute Waning” (indexed into five parts), where everyone gets a chance to show their best stuff and self-indulge a bit. Overall, Liquid Tension Experiment is at least on par with last years’ Magna Carta supergroup Black Light Syndrome. Recommended.
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