Music Reviews Progressive Rock

Levin Torn White

September 2011 has been a busy month for progressive rock after more than a year of rare and sporadic releases—most of which have tanked. It is refreshing to see a collaboration between the giants of the industry, masters of their instruments. We are so used to contemporary progressive artists teaming up and presenting excellent releases, sometimes better than those released by their full-time bands. Rarely do veterans of progressive rock unite, but in the case of Levin Torn White, they have, and they make no mistakes about such a collaboration. It is easy to say offensive words like “old men,” but in fact, there is a youthfulness to the music that Levin Torn White have created.

The album is split among expressive, experimental instrumentals that function as a chance for these masters of trade to flex their muscles. Yet, they are far from masturbatory. Indeed, they seem to be conceptualizing a new experimental progressive rock form that only giants could conceive. On the other hand, songs like “The Hood Fall” are so wonderfully melodic, it’s a shame that Andrian Belew could not get his hands on it and lay down clever, urgent lyrics. Levin’s Stick work, Torn’s textures, and White’s on-the-money beats fuse together so well, it is my hope this is one of many collaborations between this trio of giants.

What makes this album truly stand out, is its mastering. Songs like “Convergence” features an exuberant spatial unity of instruments unlimited by dynamic range. Levin Torn White have accurately presented atmosphere and mood with their talents. Without compressing together too many ideas or too many instruments at once, their work can be enjoyed for their execution.

While Tony Levin is no stranger to supergroups, in fact, he is very used to entering studios as he has been tapped as one of the most prolific session musicians in the past four decades. He has worked and contributed to the most pivotal rock groups, ever. Ever. I’m not familiar with David Torn, but his oeuvre speaks for itself: Jeff Beck, David Bowie, and John Legend. Alan White, a staple of Yes, along with his many other collaborations and is far more removed from his common gigs.

Levin Torn White has something to offer nearly all progressive rock fans. It almost feels as if this is some King Crimson album from another dimension (no LTE pun intended), or even one of those fanciful ProjeKcts. Unlike these musicians’ past progressive work, the songs all clock in at less than 6 minutes, making them easy to consume and isolate the better moments to muse over. It is actually fun to listen to these giants of industry flesh out ideas, even if but a few fail miserably.

Levin Torn White is one of the most impressive releases of 2011, and the most unexpected. I had not heard the project until it was dropped in my lap. But it is a welcomed inclusion to the trend of supergroups of the past several years. Move over modern progressive rock and metal, the veterans of prog will show you how it is done.