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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jordan Rudess

Prime Cuts

Review by Josh Turner

Jordan Rudess is "technically" the best keyboardist in the business. When you limit this contest to progressive rock, it's a no-brainer. Actually, as far as classical, technical, just about anything instrumental, Jordan is the man. Awhile back, Keyboard Magazine recognized him as Best New Talent. In subsequent articles and interviews, they often infer he is top dog. His talent is so remarkable; he was offered a position with both the Dixie Dregs and Dream Theater at the same time. It was a difficult choice to make and it must have been a hard day's night sleeping on this one. Then again, it's a nice problem to have, considering the high regard people have for these two important bands. Earlier in his career, he signed on with the Dixie Dregs, feeling the fringe benefits allowed for more creative freedom. Later, he enjoyed a jaunt with Mike Portnoy and John Petrucci in Liquid Tension Experiment. The assignment was such a success; it seemed foolish not to carry on with the chemistry. As a result, he was recruited as a permanent fixture in Dream Theater's roster. He's been there ever since, though he's found time for several stirring side projects. Rudess is not only one of the elite; he's actually the reigning king of the hill. For those who have followed his career, I bet I can read your mind. Tell you something you don't already know, right?

Magna Carta has a special place for him in their catalog and he has been invited to many major sessions. This product only goes to show how pleased they are with his contributions. When you insert this album in your computer's CD player, you will encounter a bonus video - In the Studio With Jordan Rudess. There is a lot of insight here into how he created the pieces and what it was like working with such an imposing cluster of renowned artists. He answers questions and talks about his current and past influences. He makes one profound statement in particular to what he would do if he went back to the beginning. It might cause you to rewind and double-check. He has some great comments on his use of technology and what he plans to do with it going forward. There are many other interesting answers and he creates intrigue in relation to the direction he is taking his career into the future. It's short, to the point, well-done, and worth what little time it takes watch.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Liquid Tension Experiment - Universal Mind
This is the first of three selections from Liquid Tension Experiment. This is a wise move as it involves three other stars. It would have been impossible to incorporate tracks from Dixie Dregs and Dream Theater as it would have exceeded the time limit on a single disc (not to mention the fact that they weren't recorded on Magna Carta - ed). By pilfering pieces from this particular group, you get a proper sampling of Rudess' abilities, solos, and team playing. This song is literally untouched, but its plagiary is official. Also, it happens to be one of the best songs from the project. It's like a Dream Theater instrumental. The only difference is that it's laden with Tony Levin's moody bass. It also features a somewhat familiar, yet insanely sly finish.
Jordan Rudess - Tear Before the Rain
This is the first of only two songs that incorporate singing. This is lifted from a solo album and it features Kip Winger on lead vocals. Daniel J graciously provides his guitar. The singing is sleek and slick while the backing vocals by Bert Baldwin are apt and noble. This comes from his album, Rhythm of Time, with a tone that's atmospheric and balladic in nature
Jordan Rudess - Revolutionary Etude
Again, we get another item from a solo release, but this one is purely instrumental. In this recital, we get to see Jordan's esteemed classical side. This is impressive playing on the piano and it reminds me of the nippy passages found on "Bite of the Mosquito" (an alternative he did to the famous "Flight of the Bumblebee"). As a fly on the wall, you'll be stuck in these complex structures. By the way, this spirited number descends down the steps of his Steinway to Heaven appearance.
Vapourspace - Osmosis
This happens to be a remix of the "Vapourspace" track from Liquid Tension Experiment. As the old adage goes, don't try to fix what is not already broke. Going against the grain like the friction-free technology in a Gillette Fusion razor, they make the experience slightly more smooth and milky. Thus, each sweet riff enhances the task and results in a very close shave.
Rod Morgenstein - Faceless Pastiche
This involves the other half of the Rudess/Morgenstein project. On it, Rod Morgenstein gives us a number of alluring fills and one fine drum solo. Not only can Rudess turn heads, but he can successfully setup the foundation for another amazing musician. As I'm a huge fan of both these artists, this is unquestionably my favorite track on the album. If you want to find others along these lines, look to Modern Drummer's Drum Nation Volume One. Much to my chagrin, Morgenstein is hidden elsewhere on the album.
Jordan Rudess - Outcast
Modulating between several past experiences, we return to a unique solo event. This comes from an effort called 4NYC and it was strictly for a charitable purpose. The mood of this one is benevolent, bittersweet, and maybe even a little bit lonely.
Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Dreams
Unlike the other monstrous instrumentals, this is somewhat of a slacker. It takes its time to develop. Since it surpasses the ten-minute mark, it surely means to pace itself. While it's laidback, Rudess' fingers roll over the ivory bars. He demonstrates his command on the lighter side of the scale. As the name implies, this also comes from Liquid Tension Experiment.
Hoedown
This is another extraordinary highlight. Serving the cause, Robert Berry, Simon Philips, Jerry Goodman, and Marc Bonilla suit up. From Encores, Legends & Paradox (A Tribute to ELP), this inconceivable crew recreates a very well known track. In this iteration, Rudess spares no frills and substitutes what could have been a measly soup for this incredibly dicey salad.
Jordan Rudess - Beyond Tomorrow:
It seems the latter part of the album has his more expressive numbers. This impressive piece is by no means an exception. Like "Tear Before the Rain," Daniel J pours on the guitars while Winger and Baldwin provide more bourgeoning lyrics. However, it is Rudess who steals the spotlight. Since Rhythm of Time is his latest endeavor, it only makes sense to include this "key" ingredient.

Jordan Rudess - Feed The Wheel
We end with this, the only submission from Feeding the Wheel. Rudess wraps up the album in the same style as it had begun, by showing off his domination on the most synthetic devices. While I tend to prefer songs with verses, his keyboards are the perfect blend between melody and technique. When John Petrucci shreds with venom and tears up the road, Mark Wood hisses on his Viper Violin. We also get some fancy drumming from the extraordinary Terry Bozzio. With friends like this, it's unlikely he'll have any enemies in the music business. Jordan has many accolades under his belt and agreement among the critics. To clarify my position, there is no need to twist my arm in order to make me concede. If I were putting together a super group, he is the one I would assign to the keys.
 
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