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This is not the same band as Liquid Tension Experiment. They’re down one member, which makes an incredible difference. Guitarist John Petrucci is missing from the lineup because his kid was being born. As opposed to Tension’s work, which was brimming with sound and energy, the Trio’s album Spontaneous Combustion takes a far more aimless and minimalistic approach. Every track is improvised, and without structure. I don't mean they have an abnormal structure. I mean NO structure.
As a drummer, I love to hear one of my kind taking a central role in the music every now and then. But Portnoy doesn’t do anything really worthwhile, let alone mindblowing. Like Pfuntner said in his review, Portnoy has nothing to base his beats off, leaving him free to make up his own rather lackluster patterns. Rudess noodles about in the background most of the time, screwing around with the effects on his keyboard, now and then taking over the focal point. When this happens, sometimes it is then that the music has some value to it, sounding like an actual song instead of mindless improvisation. The bassist doesn’t do much, but on occasion he steps up to fill a more prominent role.
Liquid Trio Experiment can’t be called metal. Maybe not even rock. But a decent amount of their work has a jazzy feel to it (see Cappuccino and Jazz Odyssey), and still others that take influence from funk. The songs lean towards minimalistic (drone, noise, and ambient), and are typically slower or mid-paced. Hardly any of it is actually driving. It’s just aimless improv; they got together and noodled in Petrucci's absence. This is what happens when you have talented musicians with big egos who think their fans want to hear every note they've played.
And, in true Dream Theater fashion (two-thirds of the band are/were in DT), Spontaneous Combustion takes up nearly the entire playing time of a CD. The album isn’t unpleasant, but it really drags. And for the most part, it’s just kind of… there. Not doing anything interesting or relevant. Don’t listen to this album. Stick to Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment. You’d be wasting your time not to.
It seems that certain musicians have convinced themselves that their fans want to hear every note that they have recorded over the course of their career. Because of this we have remix albums, demo bonus tracks, rehearsal recordings, b-side and outtake collections, and alternate recordings. While some of these things are interesting and worthwhile to hardcore fans and casual listeners alike, other times we get things like the version of “Until It Sleeps” with James Hetfield mumbling the vocal melody instead of lyrics. Mike Portnoy is one of the greater offenders of the ‘sell everything I do’ camp, and while his heart is certainly in the right place, we occasionally get things like this.
What we have here is a collection of instrumental jams from the recording session of Liquid Tension Experiment’s pretty good second album. The one problem is that John Petrucci is missing, which knocks the entire band off balance. I never thought that I’d say that an album would need Petrucci in order to limit self indulgence but here we are and god do I miss the guy. You see, without Petrucci, Jordan Rudess has no foil to work against and Mike Portnoy has no riffs to drive his beats against. Because of this Rudess is free to improvise nonstop using every wacky setting in his keyboard library and every lick in his repertoire. Since Mike Portnoy’s strong suite is developing intricate drum parts to a defined composition he flails like a fish out of water here. Tony Levin, while an incredible musician, is fairly absent here mostly because of the overbearing Jordan Rudess and the lack of a strong groove to work with from Portnoy.
The tunes here are very loose in their construction and tend to slide into pseudo-jazz a great deal. As I mentioned before, Jordan Rudess’s keyboards would be the real driving force behind the songs, if these songs had any drive to them. There are cool moments here and there, but the sheer amount of material at hand makes it very hard to pick exactly what those moments are. The fact that this incarnation of the band removed the word “tension” from their name is telling. These recordings don’t have tension or release; they just sort of sit there. Sure the band gets louder and the playing gets busier but it never happens for a reason. Here we have three great musicians killing time by goofing off by pretending to be a funk band or messing around with strange tones on their instruments. I’m sure it’s fun for them to listen to back to this, and if I remember correctly some of these ideas made it into songs on their second album, but this is not entertaining from the outside.
If you have the LTE full lengths, you do not need to hear this. If you’ve heard any of Jordan Rudess’s solo material you already know how many different sounds the man can coax out of the keyboard. If you don’t have any of the above, you shouldn’t start the journey here.
When progressive supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment (henceforth LTE) was last recording, guitarist John Petrucci had to leave the session (I believe one of his kids were being born or something). But the tapes kept on rolling for the remaining members and after enjoying the final product, they decided “ah fuck it” and released the album, entitled Spontaneous Combustion, under the moniker of Liquid Trio Experiment. As an extension of the original LTE side-project and because of the talent of the band members, this record will surely garner the attention of the band’s fanbase. But just a warning from someone who’s heard it, there’s something missing from Spontaneous Combustion that will probably keep you from digging this album to the degree of their earlier material.
And for the most part, that something is John Petrucci. His eccentric guitar work and metal edge were a key factor to the LTE sound. The tracks recorded in his absence are guitar-less. Remember those short, off-tracks from the LTE debut? The ones that were just a few minutes of bass and drums fucking around with the little keyboard touches? This album is what happens when you expand those tracks into a full-length album. The vibe is completely different from the LTE albums, which were mostly over-the-top progressive carpet-bombings that attacked your sense of hearing from every direction. This album is more….under-the-top, if you will. It tries so hard to be subtle and unnerving that it ends up just as ridiculous as the previous albums, but without the urge to dig deeper into the album’s every twist and turn. Expect lots of free jazz (out of the coffee shop and into your home!), earthy, tribal-sounding grooves, funk, and other assorted weirdness (Tony Levin making his bass sound like satanic violins, among many other things; excerpts from Disney pieces, etc.). I like piano music, so stuff like “Cappuccino,” “Fire Dance” and “Jazz Odyssey” were about all I really found worthwhile. To each his own.
Albums like this separate the big fans from the little ones, so how much you like this pretty much depends on how much you like the others. Definitely less accessible from a metal perspective, but maybe those more interested in jazz will find something to worship here.