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Tony Levin - Double Espresso CD (album) cover


Tony Levin


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.53 | 25 ratings

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4 stars I was positively drooling at the mere thought of reviewing this absolutely successful live album by the maestro himself , basso supremo Tony Levin surrounded by some fierce and legendary prog bodyguards from the Gabriel days in Larry Fast of Synergy and the incredible Jerry Marotta. The fourth member Jesse Gress is a true find, an accomplished virtuoso guitarist from his Todd Rundgren days. This is going to be one hell of a global ride,I assure you! Disc 1 opens with the dizzying "Pieces of the Sun" , a heavily synthed-out , electro muscular rampage with Levin's buzzing bass way upfront for us to enjoy while Marotta bashes almost Bonham-style big, fat and meaty. Gress ices the cake with some superlative playing in a most innovative style, sounding like no one other than himself, no small feat today. The intensely short "Geronimo" wibbles and wobbles frenetically, closer perhaps to Levin-era King Crimson showing that the bald-one really learnt something from Fripp and company, delving into sonic dives, textural dips and contrasting flips. I could call this slithery prog, as these guys demonstrate that they can play with anyone. On the gently magnificent "Silhouette" Levin is caressing his majestic Chapman with profound concentration, a devoted enthusiast towards his lovebass, slated by a sweet guitar lead that sings above the towering native mesas, a prog instrumental ballad par excellence. "Dog One" shows off their quirkier side, a humorous off-ramp excursion that wanders into Belew/Zappa universes, a little display of mischief as they constantly stretch the boundaries searching for that elusive paroxysm of progressive bliss. Again, following the bass along is a real treat, what a phenomenal player Tony is. What's remarkable is the natural manner in which this pleases the ear and the mind, smart and eccentric yet unadulterated fun, especially coming from such seasoned veterans who could have easily winged it. The tropically funky "Tequila" worms seductively from the get-go, burying a tough bass riff into the groove, ringing synthesized pools that recall who Porcupine Tree's Richard Barbieri is devoted to, while drummer Marotta yields his kit chair and steps up front for a woozy sax solo and Gress coughs up some nasty licks from his fretboard , damn this is good! Like a true student of rock music , Levin learned from his pal Peter Gabriel the art of keeping things constantly breathless in a live situation (having seen Peter 3 times I can attest to the man's uncanny showmanship). Enshrined as a brooding thumper, Zep's "Black Dog" is a classic that few have dared to cover and hope to emulate, the band members omit any lead vocal and turn this into an instrumental hurricane as Gress displays a phenomenal understanding of the Page riff and adds some sizzling leads that parallel Plant's shrieking voice, now that's heavy! Frankly, I think this version is even better in a way, outslicing Led Zep shredded note by booming beat in a truly imperial performance. "Ooze" is a respite from the monster gales, justifying the title by slipping all over the place, very Arabic and fluttering in quarter tones that recall the Kasbah. The epic "Apollo" is a raunchy affair at first with exploding bass, mutilating drums and exuberant guitar slashes while the synths ping crazily. A mid section proposes a gentle ride where Gress gets to weave a series of effective leads and rhythmics that will convert you to his cause. Things revert to the tornado vortex of dizzying sounds and a colossal central theme that will blow? You?. All? The ?Way! The final Gress solo is one for the ages a tremendous tour de force and the audience applauds ouf!!! Next, Levin gives us some Pock Progressivo Italiano showing that the man knows his prog BIG TIME and "L'Abito della Sposa" does not have Marotta trying out his New York Italian but brilliantly talented Levin singing himself , very daring, hence very cool! A reprise of the King Crimson "Sleepless" is another clear demonstration that everything is sacred enough to be attempted, especially if the result is genius. This is another monumental composition, lush with powerful and relentless finesse, the luscious bass and cubic synths weaving prosperous sonics, odd singing and some dissonance tossed in for good measure, again perhaps even better than the original. The playing by these 4 gents is simply hard to put in words , I mean some of the finest creative proggers anywhere are baring their craft and their exalted muse. Incredible stuff.

Disc 2 dares to continue the buzz unashamed for nearly another hour and the adrenalin does not decelerate au contraire it gets into high gear with "Pillar of Fire". Moodily convoluted, the pounding marshalling thump keeps the ship nice and tight, letting Jesse Gress to ascend into the guitar heavens, an ultra modern prog workout that is hard to resist, driving headily into space rock's realm. "Ever the Sun Will Rise" is another stunner that defies comprehension with some unexpected piano and atmospherics at first, suddenly morphing into this bestial cluster of propelled sound, hard and edgy with binary drum expulsions and psychotic guitar screeches. Unrelenting and ruthless, this a live powder keg of progressive dynamite, determined and beautiful, the finest track here among so many others! The Synergy classic (and my favorite Larry Fast track) "Phobos" is a masterful piece, full of unconcealed modernism and electronic lunacy, given more oomph with Levin's reptilian bass and Marotta's rigid drums in complete attendance, I mean wow! A buzzard-like guitar blast confirms the deal. How can we resist such bravura? Better than the original again. That's three and counting! "The Fifth Man" is a bit of a letdown at first, saved by some dazzling guitar midway that takes the tune in another direction altogether. The instrumental blowout is fierce and dedicated. Now here is another prog monument tackled by these shameless geniuses, the "Lamb" era Genesis roller coaster "Back in NYC". Er?. Guess what? Not better than the original because Gabriel's vocals remain unimpeachable and Marotta is no match to the leather clad Rael. He does great though, weaving into the dense miasma of lurking sounds and biting chords but the original is still on top of the hill. Nice stab though, guys! "Utopia" is a Levin composition that ventures deep into the proggiest territories, initially forging a slithering bass line that shows the dexterity of the nimble fingers and evolving into an aural paradise of sound and melody that has all the right ingredients. The sense of instrumental balladry remains picture clear here again, nothing too complex but exquisitely played by the band, Gress flirting with some wicked lead accelerations and stubborn riffery. Another cover, this time the quirky KC classic "Elephant Talk" is thrown into the fire much to the crowd's pleasure, a hyper- polyrhythmic mélange that for me really resembles a groggier version of Talking Heads, loads of edgy insanity and weird reverberation, the tortured guitar is oblique and devastating, the whole probably on par with the original. I was never a big fan of this tune so I remain demure. Fans will love it though. Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" is a rock "n roll standard (first chords when you learn guitar) and proves that these gentlemen are having lots of fun, and not at the expense of cheesiness, bringing on their good friends (and opening act I presume) the California Guitar Trio. Yes, this is an unabashed chopfest with licks from all aboard, driving drums and chug along bass. Fun, fun, fun! "Belle" closes out this fine concert in style with a delightful piano-led goodbye, Tony bringing in his brother Pete Levin to do the cool jazz bar thing as time goes by and letting his Stick add some salt and pepper to the schmooze. A totally enjoyable ride and one of the finer live albums ever with loads of mature music, daring covers and outright amusement. 4.5 Brooklyn cappuccinos.

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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