Review Summary: A musical roller coaster ride that showcases a high level of musicianship, creativity, spontaneous improvisations and A LOT of fun.
Liquid Tension Experiment was formed by then-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy as an instrumental side project, consisting of then-Dixie Dregs keyboardist Jordan Rudess, bass maestro Tony Levin and Portnoy's sidekick in Dream Theater John Petrucci on guitars.
The album was written and recorded in less than a week, but the level of musicianship and musical intricacy displayed on the album is simply stunning, the musical chemistry is obviously there and it is a testament to how professional these musicians are. This album is full of shredding solos, soaring guitar and keyboard leads, funky bass grooves and masterful drumming, it is musically in the realm of Instrumental Progressive Metal with many other influences.
"Paradigm Shift" opens the album with an extremely fast unison line, starting the album with a bang. This piece is a full on metal jam, it is chock full of metal riffs featuring shredding solos from John and Jordan, the piece then slows down near the middle and gives Tony a moment to shine with a slow groovy bass solo, then Petrucci comes in and lays down a sweet harmonic minor based solo before going back to the main theme. A highlight of this piece is the little Egyptian theme they seamlessly transition into before finishing the piece on a high note with the same unison heard at the beginning. "Osmosis" is an improvised jam between Mike, John and Jordan, it sounds like it would fit in a National Geographic nature program, just imagine being in a rain forest with a soundtrack to accompany you.
"Kindred Spirits" is a semi-ballad, opening with a catchy riff by John, then the whole band joins in. The first two minutes sound like something in an action game, then they rein it in in the middle of the piece to allow John and Jordan to lay down some really soulful melodies before launching back into the main theme, the piece concludes with the band jamming their hearts out. "The Stretch" is another improvised jam, this time between Mike, Jordan and Tony. Tony lays down some very groovy bass lines on his Chapman Stick, and Jordan improvises a lead solo on top of it with Mike maintaining a solid rhythm foundation.
"Freedom of Speech" is another semi-ballad, it starts with a slow piano solo from Jordan, then John comes in with a soaring guitar solo. The piece then takes a drastic turn into a section that sounds like you're exploring a mysterious place, this bit builds in tension and is a long dramatic build up, it is in F# minor and it culminates and resolves in B minor, it is a feeling of release which must be heard to be felt, another highlight of the album. The piece then continues with John and Jordan trading more solos before returning to the melodic theme heard earlier in the piece. "Chris and Kevin's Excellent Adventure" is the third improvised jam on the album, this time only between Mike and Tony, the latter of whom gets a much deserved time to shine, providing a very bouncy bass groove throughout. They show their more humorous side by whistling in the jam and Mike also says a few random words throughout.
"State of Grace" is a piano and guitar duet between John and Jordan, it is a departure from the other pieces as it is a very slow, lyrical and emotional, showcasing them at their most intimate. After the nice, tranquil ending notes of "State of Grace" fade off, "Universal Mind" quite violently pulls you back into metal territory, this piece is another full on metal jam, rife with high speed solo trade offs between John and Jordan, this piece has some of their most interesting music. Around the 4 minute mark, the entire band stops abruptly and Jordan plays a keyboard solo, one of his best to date, then the band comes back in, building on melodic elements from his solo, showcasing the band's niche for taking musical elements and variating them in creative ways. The piece ends unexpectedly with their own rendition of "Heart and Soul", followed by circus melody, ending the piece on a humorous note.
"Three Minute Warning" is simply a 28 minute totally improvised jam, nothing was discussed beforehand, they simply hit the record button and from then on anything was possible, the first two minutes or so are just plain noodling on their own instruments, but it does not take long before they latch onto each other's ideas and from there onwards it is a roller coaster ride to the end. This, in my opinion, is the epitome of an improvised jam, some parts just sound so cohesive it is as if they planned to do it.
Liquid Tension Experiment is an album that showcases a high level of musicianship, creativity, spontaneous improvisations and A LOT of fun, the fact that it took them less than a week to write and record it just makes it so much more magical, this is 4 musicians jamming their hearts out in a whirlwind writing and recording session. If you are a sucker for highly technical, no holds barred music (for the most part), then this is for you, if not, get it anyway just to appreciate how well these guys gel musically.