CD Review – Liquid Tension Experiment – Experiment 3

Back at the end of the last century (now that ages it!) Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci, and Jordan Rudess, then all from Dream Theater, joined Tony Levin from King Crimson, Peter Gabriel and others, in releasing two great big garrulous albums chock-a-block with heavy riffs, noodling jazz sections, powerful melodies, and sheer bravado. Then, nothing for twenty-two years, besides the odd live get together. They have all been busy with other ways of course, but to many it seemed that Liquid Tension Experiment had run its berserk musical course.

And then the Covid pandemic hit. While many bands found the door slamming on their musical careers, the men who make up Liquid Tension Experiment found themselves with time on their hands. In July 2020 the band members all self-isolated, took the required tests, and then assembled in a New York studio to work on a new album. Any potential tension was between the Dream Theater men, as Portnoy had moved on a few years earlier. His working on Petrucci’s most recent solo album had kind of broken that ice but friendships, not just of the musical kind, tend to run a bit deeper than that. Portnoy explains; “I think the first thing we did was literally just jammed and improvised the first day. I gotta be honest though, it was a little surreal. I had worked with John a few months ago and I played with Jordan and Tony through the years but there was one moment, I got here to the studio and I was standing in the room with Jordan and John and I was like ‘wait a second, this is the first time the three of us have been in a room together in like over ten years.’ It was surreal and then ten minutes later we’re jammin’ and it felt like we hadn’t missed a step at all. It felt like it was exactly where we left off.”

Jordan Rudess agrees, “It felt like a continuation, like we stopped recording LTE2 and walked in a week later we’re doing LTE3. I know it’s amazing to say, but time has passed in a moment, the blink of an eye, the chemistry is the chemistry, and it didn’t change. It was great back then and it still is.”

The talented quartet hit the ground running, and quickly wrote and recorded the album. It would seem with some ease, as Tony Levin explains; “The speed of learning is very quick and that’s pretty cool, so you can really create a very complex ten, twelve, fifteen-minute piece in a day and then go to work on fine tuning it.”

The resulting album is just as strident and extravagant as its predecessors. From the very beginning the pace is almost frantic, with the opening track, Hypersonic, blazing a frenetic course from the outset. The music doesn’t really let up from then on. Each band member is given the time to enthral with their performance before the style and mood shifts again and we’re off to a new musical caper. Of the eight tracks on the album, four are fully composed, two are duets, one is a jam, and there is a punctiliously arranged cover of Rhapsody in Blue.

There is also a second disc which consists of jams that the band undertook in the studio.

For all the flamboyance on display though out the album, there are also greatly nuanced parts. The jazz is more subtly placed this time, often hiding behind the sheer muscle of the rock blow-outs. There are even really quite avant-garde moments too, especially on Portnoy and Levin’s duet Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey. There’s some energy and quirkiness on display throughout the album, but also some thoughtfulness and flair. Hearing talented musicians display their muscle can be a joy, and it frequently is on this album. But it is also the album’s weakness. You might listen to Rhapsody In Blue and think it exciting but referential, whereas you might listen again and find it annoying and overblown, in a similar way to Emerson Lake and Palmer when they were re-interpretating the Classics. It is a peculiar talent to be both thrilling and annoying at the same time. John Petrucci says, “It follows in the Liquid Tension Experiment tradition absolutely, which is, that when you press play, it steamrolls you. It’s not gonna open with something mellow – the idea was to write something with a lot of crazy speed and mayhem and all that.”

The overwhelming sense though is that this is an exhilarating and often eccentric album made by musicians at the top of their game. The individual performances are flawless but the ensemble playing is what gives it its strength. You are left with the impression of four friends being kooky while being knocked-out by playing along with each other. Tony Levin sums it up succinctly, “The only pressure was ordering dinner.”

Release date: 26th March 2021

Label: InsideOut Music

1 Hypersonic 00:08:25

2 Beating the Odds 00:06:08

3 Liquid Evolution 00:03:25

4 The Passage of Time 00:07:32

5 Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey 00:06:45

6 Rhapsody in Blue 00:13:11

7 Shades of Hope 00:04:44

8 Key to the Imagination 00:13:14

Bonus Disc

1 Blink of an Eye 00:10:28

2 Solid Resolution Theory 00:10:02

3 View from the Mountaintop 00:05:24

4 Your Beard Is Good 00:14:31

5 Ya Mon 00:15:2

Tony Levin – Bass Guitars, Chapman Stick

John Petrucci – Guitars

Mike Portnoy – Drums

Jordan Rudess – Keyboards

Websites:

facebook.com/mikeportnoyofficial

facebook.com/johnpetrucciFB/

facebook.com/tonylevinofficial

facebook.com/jordanrudessofficial

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