Liquid Tension Experiment
About Liquid Tension Experiment
Liquid Tension Experiment is an American instrumental prog rock "supergroup." Founded in 1997 by drummer Mike Portnoy, then a member of Dream Theater, their sound offers complex compositions -- sometimes of protracted length -- wedding riff-laden hard rock and heavy metal to knotty jazz fusion, and meaty funk with constantly shifting dynamics, rhythms, time signatures, and textures. The lineup also includes King Crimson bassist/Chapman Stick master Tony Levin, and Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess and guitarist John Petrucci. The band's self-titled debut album was cut over five days and released by Magna Carta in 1998. They issued Liquid Tension Experiment 2 in 1999 to greater critical and commercial success. A compilation entitled Spontaneous Combustion by Liquid Trio Experiment was released in 2007, composed of improv tapes cut during the LTE2 sessions by Portnoy, Rudess, and Levin. During a 2008 concert, Rudess left the stage due to keyboard malfunctions, and his bandmates continued to play, improvising for the rest of the concert; he eventually returned to play guitar. The improvised concert was released in 2009 as When the Keyboard Breaks: Live in Chicago. After more than a decade apart, the band reunited in Dream Theater's studio during the late summer of 2020. They emerged with LTE3 in April 2021.
Though prog rock supergroups are so ubiquitous as to be nearly de rigueur in the 21st century, that wasn't always true. In late 1996, Magna Carta Records pitched Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy the idea of an all-star instrumental project that would kick off a series of Dream Theater side projects. Portnoy accepted the challenge and invited bassist Tony Levin and Dixie Dregs keyboardist Jordan Rudess -- who had declined a membership invitation from Dream Theater in 1994 -- to join him. Filling the guitar chair proved more difficult. None of Portnoy's initial preferences -- Pantera's Dimebag Darrell, Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple), or Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) -- were available. Portnoy reluctantly approached Petrucci. He was hesitant simply because he was a member of Dream Theater and this was supposed to be a separate project. Petrucci accepted and the band entered the studio in 1997. Their desire was to compose, rehearse, and record a complete project in seven days. They finished in five.
Liquid Tension Experiment was issued by Magna Carta in March 1998, marketed as conceived, as a Dream Theater side project. The set consisted of 13 collectively written tracks ranging from two minutes to the five-part "Three Minute Warning" suite, lasting nearly half an hour. Critical reception on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean ranged from appreciative to glowing to confused -- prog fans, however, had no such misgivings and bought it in droves. Liquid Tension Experiment re-entered the studio in late 1998 hoping to accomplish the same thing. Due to circumstances beyond the group's control, this album took two months. While the sessions were moving at a clip, Petrucci received a phone call and learned his wife had gone into premature labor. With the studio already booked, the remaining bandmembers continued to improvise, recording the results. After Petrucci returned, they completed the album, but a few compositions emerged from those improvisations including "914," "Chewbacca," and "Liquid Dreams." Upon its release in the spring of 1999, the album was greeted with universally laudatory reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. The group supported the set by playing a few high-profile, select dates to maximum hype in the U.S. and in England. LTE2 marked the quartet's final studio offering for more than two decades, though they continued to play live for years afterward. 1999 also saw three of Liquid Tension Experiment's live gigs issued on CD and DVD. Furthermore, the LTE2 sessions provided the impetus for Portnoy and Petrucci to convince Rudess to at last join Dream Theater.
Though fans clamored for a third album, Portnoy maintained that it wouldn't happen, that occasional tours were all they would continue to do. However, in 2007 he published a blog post stating that if conditions were amenable, anything was possible. That year, an album called Spontaneous Combustion was released by the Liquid Trio Experiment. The recordings occurred during the 1998 trio improv sessions sans Petrucci and were sourced from Portnoy's DAT tapes. Critical and fan reception was decidedly mixed. During a 2008 Liquid Tension Experiment tour stop in Chicago, Rudess' keyboard began malfunctioning. He left the stage to deal with the issue. His bandmates continued to improvise on-stage. Rudess eventually returned sans keyboard, and picked up Petrucci's guitar. The guitarist, in turn, grabbed Levin's bass while the bassist employed his Chapman Stick. The entire concert was issued as Liquid Trio Experiment 2 - When the Keyboard Breaks: Live in Chicago.
Portnoy left Dream Theater in 2010 to pursue his many other projects including Flying Colors, the Neal Morse Band, Transatlantic, Winery Dogs, and Sons of Apollo. Liquid Tension Experiment's members intermittently guested with one another in various live configurations over the next decade, but didn't record together. In mid-December of 2020, the bandmembers began releasing social media posts wearing surgical masks with LTE3 imprinted upon them. On December 17, the Inside Out label formally announced a third studio album. It had been secretly recorded in August at Dream Theater's studio. They cut four fully composed tracks, a pair of duets, an improvised group jam, and an unlikely, meticulously arranged cover of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" for the set. An advance video single for "Passage of Time" was released to YouTube and streaming services in January 2021, followed by another for "Beating the Odds" in February. LTE3 was issued in mid-April. ~ Thom Jurek