Levin Minnemann Rudess. It sounds like a law firm, but it’s a band.
And the three LMR players are the musical analog of actors who perform their own stunts. They’ve got experience and passion aplenty to stir emotions with sound, and their considerable instrumental chops (and nifty toys) allow them to pull off mind-blowing feats without calling in the cavalry.
They are a self-contained space-rock circus troupe.
Assembled earlier this year (with an assist from producer Scott Schorr), the all-star trio boasts the bass / cello prowess of Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Liquid Tension Experiment), keyboard wizardry of Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), and drum / guitar jujitsu of Marco Minnemann (Paul Gilbert, The Aristocrats, Joe Satriani). Each man comes to the table with decades of stage and studio time backing the world’s best songwriters and most facile instrumentalists, and each is regarded a virtuoso in his field. Their talents have never been perceived as anything less than extraordinary. Bring ‘em together in person or by remote (through file sharing via the Internet) for a group project and you’ve got the framework for some catchy, clever, outlandishly dexterous material.
The selection titles on LMR are as peculiar their time signatures, most of which find Levin and Rudess maneuvering in and around Minnemann’s dense poly-rhythms and rapid-fire flams. With a palate of sounds at his feet (vis a vis an assortment of effect pedals), Levin thumps and thwacks on various bass instruments—but favors his Chapman stick, hammering its numerous strings against the frets with his fingertips. Occasionally the tones are so distorted that it’s hard to distinguish between Levin’s stick and Minnemann’s guitar.
Rudess graces the meticulous meters of “Marcopolis” with an array of key sounds that recall his work in Dream Theater while paying homage to the vocabularies of Rick Wakeman, Chick Corea, and Brad Fiedel. Employing his Korg, Continuum, and prototype Seaboard, Jordan unleashes torrents of digital razzle-dazzle, tweaking notes with a pitch wheel to achieve some cosmic vibrato and glissando. Minnemann embarks on a drum break at 1:30, then settles into a staccato rim shot as Levin snakes the bottom end.
“Twitch” bumps along a rumble-strip rhythm as Rudess splays the measures with creepy menace, dialing up a vocal choir before Levin indulges some nimble pneumatics. Minnemann’s thunderous rolls introduce “Frimious Banderfunk,” whose diabolical riff and dystopian dynamics percolate toward a schizophrenic middle dominated by Rudess’ steel drum flourishes and big band brass. It’s Carnival cruise music on crack cocaine as Jordan toggles flute sounds and sirens to emulate the soundtrack to some imaginary future war.
Levin taps quietly on the reflective “Blizzard,” pinning an ostinato line over Minnemann’s restrained beat and sibilant cymbals. Rudess’ keys cascade and spiral, his fleet-fingered solo a whirlybird wafting in the breeze. “Mew” flutters and palpitates before producing a quirky leitmotif recalling early Frank Zappa (“Peaches in Regalia”), but Minnemann’s guitar contribution ensures one sneaker stays firmly planted on the rock and roll side of the fence. A beehive of buzzing keys and dizzy drums (including military snare) outline the video game / cartoon music of “Afa Vulu.” Rudess demonstrates some of his eloquent jazz piano prowess a minute in, then cranks out some flatulent brass. The rhythm morphs, pitting bass against keys in a hyperactive duel before the main riff rears its head again—then the piece concludes with a sequence of piano stabs, a la “Psycho.” “Descent” is an exercise in ambience wherein Levin types out elastic lines over an already trampoline-worthy groove.
“Scrod” pulses like an idle motorcycle engine as Rudess decorates the entire six minutes with keyboard voices that conjure “Excalibur” catapults and “Star Trek” simulators at the same time; it’s chamber music meets computer-generated math rock all at once. “Orbiter” ebbs gently, the rhythm receding like waves as the LMR gents scratch their strings, weave poignant arpeggios, and execute fluid legato. “Enter the Core” could be the soundtrack to some sci-fi flick whose hero seizes a magic power crystal from the innermost chamber of the Evil Galactic Overlord’s lair. Pachydermal percussion powers “Ignorant Elephant,” whose lumbering stop-start pace leaves amble room for Rudess’ lounge piano and alchemic keys.
Levin’s sinewy bass warbles through “Lakeshore Lights” while Rudess’ hands go dancing down the ivories like Vince Guaraldi. Minnemann take a back seat here, his drums subdued during his cohort’s dramatic dinnertime piano segue. Named for the multitude of pedals Levin apparently stepped on to play it, “Dancing Feet” is a freestyle romp with echoing leads and provocative percussion textures—and snippets of conversation in the background. The nearly nine-minute “Service Engine” closes the disc with gargantuan grunge riffs and unbridled prog doodling to Marco’s tick-tick tempo.
These Wizards of Odd have outdone themselves on LMR. Here’s hoping the collaboration isn’t a one-off. Those familiar with Zappa’s synclavier work (“Jazz From Hell”) will appreciate the band’s off-kilter adventures. Keyboard fans fond of Keith Emerson, Pat Moraz, and Tony Banks ought to consider Rudess’ rolling phalanges, and shred-heads partial to Billy Sheehan, Jeff Berlin, and Jaco Pastorius will admire Levin’s licks (as if anyone hasn’t ever heard the man somewhere). The band’s youngest member, German-born Minnemann, adds another prominent plume to an already Technicolor cap with his unique arrangements, innovative drumming, and Alex Lifeson guitar flash.
Watch Marco Minnemann warm up: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I38N8XHJg8U
A deluxe version is packaged with a DVD crammed with jam outtakes, interviews, and 24-bit audio files. The first video clip documents Levin’s visit to Rudess’ home studio, where the two rock out on stick and Korg Kronos. Another 20-minute film catches mischievous Marco in a hotel room, where the drummer noodles absently on a Telecaster guitar while reflecting on his exposure to hard rock, metal, and prog as a teenager. He divulges his primary influences (Queen, Slayer, Zappa) and explains why he composed bits and pieces to workshop with Levin and Rudess, since he isn’t fond of directionless “fusion.” Later, Marco practices paradiddles on a drum pad and introduces viewers to his plastic pig mascot, Oink. Another features finds Levin and Rudess discussing their collaboration and asking one another lighthearted questions like, “How do you like being bald?” But the guys eventually get serious, with Rudess dishing at length on his rig, keyboard software, and new technology (like the note-warping Seaboard). This leads to a minor debate over Macs vs. PCs, a few words of wisdom for aspiring players, and thoughts on the meaning of life itself. Outtakes show Jordan laying down his final keyboard track on July 23, 2013.