One of the games that music fans like to do is place their favorite musicians into imaginary lineups – “wouldn’t it be great if someone could get musicians X, Y, and Z into a room and just let them play?” Maybe it’s a guy thing, perhaps the same genetic anomaly that leads to fantasy football. Occasionally though, the harmonic convergence occurs, and we benefit from the results.
The simply named Levin Torn White is such an event, and although the musicians involved don’t really need an introduction, I would be remiss to not at least acknowledge the caliber of players we’re referring to. Bassist/Stickist(?) Tony Levin’s resume reads like a who’s who of the worldwide music industry, and Drummer Alan White’s tenure with a single group would earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame (if that body had any credibility). While guitarist David Torn may be lesser known, he is a highly acclaimed artist in his own right and definitely not out of place with the two industry giants.
So what of the music? It’s instrumental and largely electric. Occasionally bombastic alternated with textural moods, and sometimes both at once. Experimental and improvisational, but not jazz. There are similarities to their previous works, but if anything this is a lesson in avoiding clichés or at least finding new uses for the old ones. While I’m not sure if the rhythm section of Levin & White has ever worked together before, they are a terrific compliment to one another. No matter how syncopated or just plain off-kilter a groove may be, groove remains the operative word. In a world of prog rock drummers with metronomic playing styles, Alan White’s relaxed timing (or what old school cats called ‘swing’) is a breath of fresh air even after all these years. Likewise, Tony Levin never forgets the ‘one’, even if he highlights it by NOT playing it.
David Torn is in the enviable position of having this remarkable canvas to add color to, and he delivers a truly remarkable performance. His electric playing is as angular and sharp as his acoustic work is equally delicate and smooth. He uses layers upon layers of electronic effects to create synth-like textures (I’m positive some of those sounds come from Levin & White as well), and ingenious overdubbing and natural sounds to fill in the harmony. One of the more interesting sounds that caught my ear is heard on the track “Sleeping Horse” in which the chords are surf guitar clean, yet hugely compressed to the point of overload. Combined with the aforementioned effects and overdubs, the sound is hypnotic.
There is a lot to like about Levin Torn White, but with its experimental nature, it’s admittedly not for everyone. It’s not a album of ‘songs’ as much as a collection of tone poems – perhaps best described as a behind the scenes look into the pure creative process that happens when established artists work outside the mainstream hit machine. Truly fascinating listening.
Personnel:Tony Levin – Bass and Chapman Stick
David Torn – Guitar and Textural Events
Alan White – Drums and Percussion
Additional Piano and Keyboards by Scott Schorr
LTW Official website