Bass Maestro Tony Levin

How low can you go? If you’re Tony Levin, vaunted bassist and Chapman Stick pluckmaster known for adventurous, innovative low-end work with heavy hitters like Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, it’s also a question of how far. Even with such a storied pedigree, Levin, 67, has always been one to constantly seek new challenges, and he’s met that creative hunger head on with his current collaboration, Levin Minnemann Rudess, a progressive trio that also consists of drummer Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, UKZ) and keyboardist extraordinaire Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment).

The self-titled LMR is available on CD from Lazy Bones Recordings, but you really should spring for the Deluxe Edition, which contains a separate DVD with filmed interviews, improv sessions, outtakes, and — attention, fellow audiophiles — 24-bit wav files of the entire hour-length album.

I spoke with Levin about the sonic choices made for LMR and the future of King Crimson, and LMR producer Scott Schorr chimed in about the possibility of a 5.1 release. To reconstruct a line from Crimson’s seminal, primal jamfest “Elephant Talk,” it’s more than just babble, balderdash, and ballyhoo.

Mike Mettler: In the “Time to Get the Razor Out” video interview on the LMR Deluxe Edition DVD, you and Jordan discuss the concept of improvisation vs. composition while working on the music for this album. When you got tracks to work on from Marco, how did you decide which way to go with your contributions?

Tony Levin: These tracks were all “composed” in the sense that one guy put a structure together and played to that, then the others did their parts (sometimes with some going back and forth). That’s quite different than two or more of the players making something up on the spot and then editing, adding other tracks, etc., to that music. I’ve done some whole albums that were improvised, and they came out quite well — and that was in mind for some of this album’s material. Jordan and I did quite a bit of jamming together, ready for Marco to play to, but we had so much good quality material written that there just wasn’t need to further develop the improv material.

As for the bass parts I played, Marco sent me tracks where he had played not just drums but guitar and bass, too — the bass just to give me a sense of where he was going. In some cases, I played a different part altogether; in others, I played somewhat what he had, keeping the essence of it, but giving my own flavor to the part — and in a couple of cases, I played exactly what he’d suggested for the bass part.

Mettler: Did you have a specific goal for the sound of LMR? Was it always intended to be done as a trio? What drew you to playing again with Jordan and Marco?

Levin: It was planned as a trio, and both Jordan and Marco are players I’d worked with successfully and wanted to reconnect with. This kind of project, where there are no preset plans for where the music goes, are a luxury for us players, and we happily went together where the music took us.

I work hard on the music end of things, and record my bass parts as high quality as I can — then I turn things over to the experts. Sound production, mixing, mastering, and audio decisions are not coming from me, and I’m happy to have really qualified people making those decisions far better than I could.

Mettler: Was consideration given to mixing LMR in 5.1? I happen to love the extra dimensionality of the surround sound mix for one of your other projects, Stick Men’s 2013 release Deep — especially on tracks like “Sepia.” LMR songs like “Descent,” “Orbiter,” and “Frumious Banderfunk” seem like naturals for being heard in surround.

Levin: You’d have to ask Scott Schorr about the sound decisions. I agree that surround would be lots of fun for this music.

Scott Schorr: The production goals for Levin Minnemann Rudess — and for every record I produce — is to try and match the sound and feel of the classic records released by the major labels. By that, I mean all Yes records up to Drama, old- to mid-period Genesis, Rush’s A Farewell to Kings and 2112, etc. I also love having the players record in different studios, as each one has its own environment, sound, and feel. But in the end, they always seem to come together to create a cohesive-sounding record. I give big credit to my mixer, Tony Lash.

We did give serious thought to mixing at least a few tunes in 5.1. The simple answer is we literally ran out of room on both the CD and DVD. We had so much material that we had to sacrifice already existing interview footage that was hard to leave out. But yes, It would be interesting to consider a remix of the entire album in 5.1. With budget constraints, which keep getting smaller with the current state of the business, we are often unable to include them. But astute fans are demanding them, and I understand why.

If I had to pick one song from LMR that would benefit from a 5.1 remix, it would be “Orbiter.” Jordan put down so many killer sweeping keyboard sounds on it that would fit the medium. If a big demand arises, we will certainly consider 5.1 mixes for the entire LMR record.

Mettler: Last question for you, Tony. What can you tell me about the upcoming eighth incarnation of King Crimson that’s set to debut in 2014? [In September, KC founder Robert Fripp confirmed that the new King Crimson lineup would consist of Gavin Harrison, Bill Rieflin, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Mel Collins, Jakko Jakszyk, and Robert Fripp.] Have you all gotten together yet to work out the various Front Line and Back Line duties? What are you looking forward to creating with this particular Crimson collective?

Levin: It’s early in the planning stage. We know the players, and we’re comparing schedules to see when we can get together to rehearse. Likely it’ll start next September, and likely it will look back at the King Crimson repertoire for material. However, I expect plenty of surprises along the way. That’s the way it usually is with Crimson.

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