Many DREAM THEATER side projects have surfaced in the past few years but arguably LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT may well be one of the most interesting of the lot. Featuring nothing but complete virtuosos of their own instruments, this first venture (of two) is an highly experimental album made not only of full band compositions but also of duets and jams, showing all the musicianship of these four guys. And these are none other than Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess (nowadays comprising more than half of DREAM THEATER) aswell as bass demigod Tony Levin (of KING CRIMSON and PETER GABRIEL fame).
LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT is the result of one insane week back in the summer of 1997, when Magna Carta decided it'd be a good thing to form a supergroup and that Mike Portnoy would be the right guy to bring it to life. Originally meant to have Jens Johansson (of STRATOVARIUS) on keyboards instead of Rudess and Billy Sheehan (DAVID LEE ROTH, MR.BIG) instead of Levin, that lineup turned out to be a no-go. Fans of DREAM THEATER probably thank the heavens for that considering the realization of this project was probably one of the main reasons why Jordan Rudess turned out to become a full-time member of DREAM THEATER.
As I said before, this is an album of experimentation, the perfect instrumental showcase for the virtuostic element among these four musicians, with whom a simple jam or the discovery of a cool "groove" or bass line can spark an entire song. Except for a few very sparse vocal overdubs in one track, this is entirely an instrumental record. Some cuts on here are full band compositions while others are simply live jamming and improvisations which eventually got developed into fully fledged songs.
So, LTE can range from very technical, fast and assaulting ("Paradigm Shift", "Universal Mind"), to soothing ("Osmosis", "The Stretch"), to rocking ("Kindred Spirits"), to highly improvised and experimental of which "Three Minute Warning", an over 28-minute piece broken down into five parts is clearly the ultimate example. The fact that the band jammed for so long on this one that the master tape ran out and the last minute and twenty seconds were only captured on a 2-track DAT thankfully running in parallel is a testament to how insane these sessions really were. The difference in sound quality is actually very noticeable towards the end of the track and it shows how spontaneous this project was meant to be.
If you're a big fan of DREAM THEATER, not enjoying this album is kind of an impossibility given all the surrounding and inner factors. If you simply enjoy exploring new musical directions, different sounds and great musicianship, then this album is also for you. If however, the uncoventional makes you pull your hair, then be sure to stay well away from this. Of course you'd be missing quite an experience, though.