By Vic J Giol
If it were any other time in history, if there was no global pandemic, if things were as they were in early 2020 when life was ‘normal’ and we took things such as live music, concerts, and large gatherings for granted, the news of Liquid Tension Experiment members getting together for an album for the first time in over 20 years would have immediately caught every headline of the prog music world by storm. It would mean a special reunion on several levels which fans have been hoping and anticipating for seemingly countless days. Ironically, the ability of these four beloved and uniquely talented musicians to finally get their schedules to align was made possible by the aforementioned pandemic. It’s incredible how something so life-altering in mainly negative and unpleasant ways can help materialize something which most of us fans consider a dream come true.
Petrucci and Portnoy talk about how LTE3 came together on The Prog Report’s “Ultimate Rush Album” Podcast. You can listen HERE.
If you are reading this review, it is assumed you know all about the well-documented history of the origin of this supergroup, the structure of the first two albums, and the bands proficiency in improvisation and epic jam sessions due to the magic connections the musicians make when they are behind their respective instruments. So in summary, this album purposely follows the same pattern of planned structure and unplanned magic captured for our enjoyment.
By the time you are reading this, LTE have released 3 tracks, “The Passage of Time”, “Beating The Odds” and “Hypersonic” with corresponding videos by Christian Rios (Transatlantic, Big Big Train, Flying Colors). These 3 tracks along with “Key to the Imagination” are the four tracks specifically composed by the group for this album. “Hypersonic,” the latest release, is the opening track which is every bit the title it carrie. The track opens with a million notes per second barrage, delivered at breakneck speed, similar to previous album openers like “Paradigm Shift” and “Acid Rain.” Each of the these 4 tracks offers something different: “Beating the Odds” is the anthemic uplifting track, “Passage” is a heavier track, while “Key” is the perfect album closer, a 13+ minute epic journey of all things which make LTE such a fan favorite.
While the composed tracks are brilliant, this group’s identity lies in their ability to be spontaneous. One track “Liquid Evolution” is a result of a jam which has a mixture of jazz fusion chords from Rudess with the rest of the band rounding out the song with mellow and smooth textures. Two other songs are duets: “Shades of Hope” feature some of Petrucci’s most emotional and melodic soloing over a melancholic piano foundation in a cathartic composition. Another duet featuring the familiar name of “Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey”, Levin’s work on the Chapman Stick and Portnoy’s drums delivering a King Crimson experimental type of mood. Added to the collection is a terrific arrangement of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” (which was previously performed live on their 10 year reunion tour in 2008).
The album is recorded by engineer James “Jimmy T” Meslin (Dream Theater, John Petrucci) and he delivers once again. Portnoy’s drums have never sounded better. Petrucci’s signature sound is unmistakable. Levin’s work on the bass and Chapman stick are as clear and rich (no pun intended) as ever. Rudess’s endless variety of sounds and effects are timely and smooth. Master mixing Jedi, Rich Mouser (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, Neal Morse Band), delivers his usual clear, pristine, dynamic, and powerful style which makes this a great listening experience to the most seasoned audiophile. There is breath, width, clarity, and precision which really raises this album to a new level. Every instrument is perfectly grooved in their sound spectrum which delivers a top notch sound experience in every variety of style LTE3 brings.
The contrast in time from the first two releases until today is significant in a couple of points: First, the musicians’ ages then ranged from their 30s to 50s and today they range from their 50s to 70s (let that sink in). Secondly, the music industry then was about to have a massive change in its way of existing into what we have today in digital streaming and on-line promotion. However, when you listen to LTE3, you realize the aural magic this quartet creates is timeless. This is the perfect follow up to its two prog classic predecessors—in the face of immense pressure from the expectations of themselves and fans, LTE3 accomplishes the feat of being an excellent and must-have album. This is another reason why 2021 is making a strong case for being the landmark year of prog rock studio releases.
Release on April 16th. 2021 on InsideOutMusic
Key Tracks: Hypersonic, The Passage of Time, Key to the Imagination
1. Hypersonic (8:22)
2. Beating The Odds (6:09)
3. Liquid Evolution (3:23)
4. The Passage Of Time (7:32)
5. Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey (5:04)
6. Rhapsody In Blue (13:16)
7. Shades Of Hope (4:42)
8. Key To The Imagination (13:14)
Bonus Disc: Includes almost an hour of improvised jams.
Tony Levin – Bass Guitars, Chapman Stick
John Petrucci – Guitars
Mike Portnoy – Drums
Jordan Rudess – Keyboards