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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Levin Minnemann Rudess

Levin Minnemann Rudess

Review by Gary Hill

In the early parts of 2013 I was kind of under-impressed with the music coming out. It’s not that it was bad, but there just seemed to be a lack of stuff that “blew me away.” Well, in the last couple months that’s changed. There have been some incredibly releases coming out and many of them will make my “best of 2013” list. It’s a safe bet that this will be on the list and it is one of maybe two or three that are going to be in contention for the number one slot. I like pretty much anything Tony Levin is involved with, so I expected to like this. I wasn’t expecting the scope and range of this album, though. This is an incredibly entertaining set.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Marcopolis

This comes in with a really hard rocking sound. It’s got a cool groove to it. The jamming works out from there. This is energized, hard edged and just plain cool in the opening movement. Then it works to a more melodic and lush arrangement that makes me think of Yes a bit. There is a cool jam with bursts of powered up drumming. Then we’re taken into some pure fusion. Melodic prog returns at the end of that movement. They really take us on a diverse and cool ride on this opening piece.

Twitch
The rubbery kind of sound that opens this just screams “Tony Levin!” After that, though, we get into a building harder rocking sound. Later keyboards lend more of a classic prog texture. There are hints of Emerson Lake and Palmer on this. As good as the opener was, and it was great, this one rises far above that. Some synthesized chorale vocals lend an almost classical air. Then it works to something that seems to merge Red era King Crimson with ELP. More fusion with some ELP in the mix emerges. The changes just keep coming here, though. This is just one short segment after another. It’s complex and diverse. There are some Wakeman like keyboard parts later. Then more fusion is heard.
Frumious Banderfunk
As this opens it’s almost heavy metal. From there, though it works to sections that are quirky progressive rock and others that are more pure fusion. The ELP and Crimson references emerge here and there. Frank Zappa seems a valid comparison a lot of the time, too. There are nods to mainstream guitar led rock and roll here, too.
The Blizzard
This is mellower and more purely melodic. That’s not to say it’s staid or boring, though. Rudess puts in one of his most emotional performances here. At times I’m reminded of Elton John’s “Love Lies Bleeding,” but with a more jazz and prog oriented sound. There are definitely classical elements here and this is a beautiful piece of music.
Mew
They bring us back into more energized territory, but the first section of this doesn’t get to the metallic crunch of the first couple tracks. While this still has lots of shifts and turns, it’s not as crazed or dynamic as those first pieces, too. It’s quite melodic and has some great musical moments. It generally lands somewhere between Yes-like sounds and fusion. There is a crunchier segment later that gives way to a short bit that seems to combine that metallic fury with some Yes-like elements. Then we’re taken into a great fusion turns Yesish jam. Some of the keyboard work later does call to mind Wakeman, but the arrangement has more fusion in it. Additionally there are a lot of Zappaisms present. There is a false ending later and then they shift this out into a heavier section. This becomes quite a cool fusion jam as it continues. There are mellower sections and harder rocking ones. It even shifts towards some seriously atmospheric space music as it leads into the closing segment. That ultimate ending has some backwards tracked stuff lending a bit of psychedelia. 
Afa Vulu
Starting percussive, this fires out into some killer fusion from there. This piece has a number of shifts and changes. Overall, though it’s a great fusion jam that’s more melodic and consistent than a lot of the other stuff. That doesn’t mean it’s boring or staid. It’s far from either of those things. It just stays closer to its main themes.
Descent
Levin’s bass end serves as the main driving force here. The song is more melodic and a bit mellower. It would be pretty safe to say that this is very closely related to electronic space music.
Scrod
A higher energy jam, the rhythm section on this is rubbery and quite cool. The cut shifts and turns with a real fusion element in play throughout. At times this approaches mellow space music. Then it fires out later into a jam that’s quite classical at first. They turn it purely fiery beyond that with frantic and rather hard edged jamming. Then it drops to just the rhythm section with some bits of noisy guitar over the top to continue. It rises out from there, though. Eventually that takes us to some noisy, yet somehow atmospheric sound that seems to encompass space rock, fusion and classical all at once. A more pure fusion jam emerges from there.
Orbiter
This comes in mellow and rather slow. It shifts and changes gradually with some space rock sounds emerging over the top. The changes on this are definitely not rapid fire. It tends to grow more organically and slowly. That said, it clearly grows and changes a lot. There is some great fusion bass work on this piece.
Enter the Core
The bass dances on the bottom end creating a great groove while the guitar weaves lines of crunchy sound over the top. This is more of a mid-tempo piece. Keyboard take the lead after a time, lending a lot of dramatic sound and melody. For some reason at times this makes me think of Pink Floyd just a bit. Then it drops down to some great fusion elements. Zappa shows up as a reference as it works towards rather strange classically tinged sounds. They bring us back out to that harder rocking, more melodic movement from there, though.
Ignorant Elephant
The opening section here feels like a fusion act doing some riff driven Led Zeppelin. That theme is revisted later, but there is also some more mainstream fusion presented here. As this continues to work through those two themes sort of dominate, but they also take us out into some Zappa-like sections. The guitar screams across later, too.
Lakeshore Lights
This is more mainstream fusion than some of other music here. It’s got less changes, but that doesn’t mean it is without changes. In fact, it has some pretty extreme ones. Overall, though this is quite melodic and accessible. The keyboards really dominate at times, but the bass shines throughout, too. There is some smoking hot guitar on this, too.
Dancing Feet
Although overall this is kind of straightforward piece of space rock, the rhythm section is incredibly busy on this thing. It’s a great composition, even if it’s got less changes than the other stuff here. That’s not really a bad thing.
Service Engine
This starts off with a riff that feels almost like Black Sabbath. The other instruments bring in more of a space rock sound as that continues. At times this feels almost like Black Sabbath jamming with Hawkwind. From there, though, it shifts to more pure fusion with some great keyboard textures. It drops to more of a mainstream progressive rock sound, but keeps evolving from there. Eventually a triumphant sounding prog jam heralds a new shift. That doesn’t stay around very long, though. Instead we’re taken into more of a freeform fusion exploration from there. We get more mainstream prog after that segment, though. They continue revisiting things until a very lush and powerful movement takes it around the five and a half minute mark. We get some vocals in the cut there. This is really very much mainstream progressive rock at that point. It’s also one of the coolest musical passage here. Considering the ride we’ve been on, that says a lot. They eventually take this out to the closing. Talk about ending things on a high note.
 
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