One of the most respected bassists in the music world today, Tony Levin has played with artists ranging from Art Garfunkel to Alice Cooper. But it’s from his two most lasting gigs — as the bassist for progressive rock originators King Crimson and as Peter Gabriel’s bassist — that Levin and his band draw their influences on their latest album, Double Espresso.
Recorded live — though the productions on the album are often so lavish that it’s hard to believe that it was — the album is a sprawling, two CD collection of mostly instrumental tracks. But Tony Levin and his cohorts are not just your basic jamband, trying to impress by playing a million notes a minute (although at times they do). They differentiate themselves by concentrating on rhythm and atmosphere rather than virtuoso technical skill.
Despite it’s jazzy, coffee-house sounding title, Double Espresso owes more to the space-rock noodlings of Pink Floyd (with whom Levin once played) and the aforementioned Mr. Gabriel and King Crimson than it does to any jazz trio. Between the four of them, Levin and his bandmates conjure up sonic landscapes that sound like the soundtrack to the coolest video game never made. But when Levin and his band have a strong song to wrap themselves around, the results are truly impressive. Witness their reworked and relaxed version of “Tequila” and their electrifying cover of the Led Zepplin classic “Black Dog.” But many of the songs lose focus, devolving into simply background music. Granted, it’s atmospheric, complicated and skilled background music, but it just doesn’t hold your attention for all of the nearly two hours of this double album. Were there some kind of video accompaniment a la “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wizard of Oz,” the album would be fantastic. But without visuals it tends to lag, especially in the second disk.
During his time off in-between the North American and European legs of Peter Gabriel’s current tour, Tony Levin has taken a month to tour with his self-titled band. He’ll be at Toad’s Place this Sunday, playing his last concert before joining back up with Gabriel in Europe. If you are a Pink Floyd fan, or just have some free time Sunday night, you might want to see one of the most respected live performers around.