Feeding the Wheel
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Released Oct 23, 2001
Jordan has recorded an instrumental solo project of his own. Special guests include Terry Bozzio (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons), Mark Wood, John Petrucci (Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment) and Steve Morse (Dregs, Deep Purple).
Jordan, on Feeding The Wheel:
"The wheel, metaphysically, represents life and motion. The planet is constantly spinning, the world is in rotation and there are a lot of things we do to keep our personal wheels in motion. I believe that each of us is on our own wheel that is always moving, and without even trying, we're on this course of life, spinning. And the really interesting thing is that there's a lot we can do to control that and feed the wheel. I thought it was an interesting concept, that everyone is on a wheel, but that we have some control over it. Some people believe in fate or destiny and I believe there are things we can do to keep on track, to control our own destiny. Some of the ways we might feed the wheel might be meditation, exercise, or for some people, their business, going to work. There are all these different things we do to keep ourselves on track, to keep our lives on a proper course."
And with that in mind, Juilliard-trained keyboardist Jordan Rudess has created an album of challenging, life-affirming keyboard rock to nourish the soul. It is nothing new for this consummate artist, a man who has collaborated with a myriad of prog greats to get to where he is today. The resume is daunting: Dream Theater (his current band), Dixie Dregs, Liquid Tension Experiment, with his next challenge being David Bowie's new album, on which he'll work closely with a regular collaborator, production legend Tony Visconti. As well, there have been fruitful, productive liaisons with Jan Hammer, Vinnie Moore, Tony Williams, Annie Haslam, Rod Morgenstein, along with three previous solo albums. Jordan Rudess is a busy guy.
But Feeding The Wheel is a milestone in the man's personal expression, comprising eleven instrumental tracks (with a bit of dramatic spoken word) that demonstrate the skills of a man that is both technologically and technically at the top of his game.
"This album is important to me because I haven't done something like this since my album, Listen. What it is is kind of a full statement of my musicality. You know I'm involved in a lot of different styles. Dream Theater is known for their progressive rock/metal combination and I can certainly relate and I have a lot to say in that area. But in addition, I also have a lot of other styles that I've been playing over the years. What I've always done has been a hybrid. Even when I was 12, 13 years old I was mixing styles together. My first piano lesson was with a guy who basically taught me all the chords and how to improvise. And from there I went into very serious classical piano training. So right from the get-go, I was involved in exploring, just playing what came out of my mind. But if someone asked me what kind of album this is, I would say a rock album, even though some of it is jazzy, some classical, some perhaps leaning toward Dream Theater. So it's a blend."
After a spoken word intro that is oddly Zappa-esque, the album begins to purr with the sly fusion pop and crackle of 'Quantum Soup'. "That was the first song I wrote for the album actually," explains Jordan. "I wrote it in different places, in different parts. One of the first parts was on vacation in Florida. I had borrowed a keyboard from one of the local stores there and some headphones; I didn't even have any speakers. The rest of the family went out to the pool or something and I got into this jazzy frame of mind and wrote. It's kind of all-out and goes into a swing, a kind of big band thing, which I thought was pretty cool, although it was hard to tell with one keyboard and a set of headphones (laughs). So then I came up with some of the other ideas, thinking about my friend Eugene Friesen, who I play with in the Paul Winter Consort, and I came up with this kind of rocking, Pat Metheny-ish melodic stuff with some interesting chords."
'Shifting Sands' has a strange familial origin as well. "That piece was originally written to be dedicated to my wife on her 40th birthday. I was putting together a kind of video clip to show at the party. As it turns out, I wrote a different piece for that because after I got started I thought, 'well, this is a pretty nice piece, but perhaps it's not suitable for that occasion, but it might be suitable for my album.' I was trying to keep it relatively calm, because I knew the album would have a lot of intensity and I was thinking I better have some things that are more relaxed."
Feeding The Wheel is a pantheon of music's latest technological advancements. For example, take 'Ucan Icon'. "I did a lot of experimenting all over the album," notes Rudess, "but 'Ucan Icon', the way I had my studio set up, is that I could sample anything, through any one of my Kurzweils at any point. So even if I was creating an entire track with full orchestration, I could sample the entire orchestration and then process it again. So at the end of 'Ucan Icon', I sampled the two last chords, and then I had them to work with. I assigned them to a key on the keyboard, and processed them. So if you hear them at the end, it's like these chords that are hitting delayed in time, and each one of them goes back a little bit, echoing out."
"Over the years I've accumulated a pretty extensive library of sounds," continues Rudess. "And I tend to take a lot of time putting my sounds together generally before I start a piece. I'll get together a palette, just like a painter has his whole palette of colors. For 'Ucan Icon', I had a flavor in mind. I wanted some of it to be Nine Inch Nails-heavy, but then I wanted it to be light as well. So I would load in all these different sounds into my instrument. I had a variety of different modules altogether, and I would load them all up, fill them with sounds that I thought would relate to the particular piece. And from there I would say 'OK, it's all set up.' And then on Performer I'm able to have all those tracks ready to go and then I start putting them together. So for some pieces I would have all these grungy timbres, maybe techno timbres, and then other times I would have a full orchestra combined with techno/grunge sounds at my fingertips. And then when I'm writing, I'm definitely someone who will go in there and get my hands dirty and program and change things, sample something and then process it again through various filters and effects."
'Dreaming In Titanium' sprung from a similarly futurist state of mind. "This is a tune I originally wrote for a NAMM show, for Kurzweil. They asked me to prepare a song that could be done in surround sound. And not only did I write that tune and put it in surround sound, but I also used a lot of Mac software for creating graphic images. So that tune was something that moved around sonically and also had a whole video show to it. And after I wrote the tune I said 'man, this tune is really, really cool. I think I'll put it on the record.' So I brought it back into my studio and reprocessed it for stereo. And it makes use of some different waves, plug-ins, to give it a three-dimensional effect."
And why this shiny title? "Because at the time I was thinking about these new Mac computers and I was designing a lot of the sounds and the graphics to do things the Titanium would do."
Look for some death-defying performances from a couple of acrobatic proggers, players monster enough to rise to the challenge posted by a seasoned veteran like Rudess. "Terry Bozzio played all the drums on the album. There are a lot of meter changes and the guy really did an unbelievable job, especially in the amount of time he had. I basically sent him every chart I could possibly think of, drum charts, piano charts, bass charts, everything, just to get him all the information. I actually have a lot of it written out in my own hand, but when I sent Terry charts, I printed them out from Performer software. Basically I use Digital Performer, and I record all my parts into that, and that enables me to print out any track in notation. And actually for the drums, what I did was originally put down all Midi drums, so I could send Terry my ideas. So before Terry even played, you could hear it with drums."
"I am a tremendous Terry Bozzio fan," continues a beaming Rudess, "and it blew my mind to have him playing on this record with me. He's unbelievable. After a couple days of playing with the music he called me up and he really related to 'Revolving Door', because it has a very classical section at the beginning. He's like 'oh man, we can really talk!' and 'you should hear some of the stuff I've done!' And it's really funny, because out of the whole album, that's the classical section, modern classical music, a little bit atonal and aggressive. He really, really vibed on that. I think it excited him to do the whole project because his head was in that mindspace as well."
Dream Theater mate John Petrucci also shows up on 'Revolving Door' and the results are electric and mind-bending. "'Revolving Door' has a lot of different styles; it keeps on changing with a lot of different meters. John plays some really outrageous guitar solos on it. It was named 'Revolving Door' mostly because - almost like a Dream Theater kind of thing - it keeps on turning stylistic courses, although I like to use different motifs to come back to to keep the piece together. That's one of the more wild and crazy tunes. It starts out with this heavily orchestrated kind of thing. Eugene Friesen and Mark Wood are playing, so you have cello and violin supporting the orchestration. And after it finishes this kind of 20th century classical thing, it goes into a kind of Irish prog riff. It's one of the main themes of the tune."
'Crack The Meter' features yet a couple more art rock legends. "That's my radio song," laughs Rudess. "Actually it's a tip of the hat to the prog fusion of old, in the sense that it sounds a little Dregs-y, or like UK. Usually a lot of my writing is really my own thing and it's hard to place, but in this case you can listen to this and say 'wow, that reminds me of something old,' which is cool with me. Sometimes people like to be reminded of things they've listened to. This is also the tune that Billy Sheehan performed on. Steve Morse played on 'Quantum Soup' and he also played the solos on 'Crack The Meter'. And what was a blast about 'Crack The Meter' is that it gave me a chance to do some trading off with Steve, which we used to do a lot of in the Dregs."
Listening to the bristling rock energy, the myriad of textures and the fierce intellectualism dovetailing effortlessly throughout the album, one wonders about the creative setting from whence it springs. When one pictures the ideal sonic launchpad, something quite close to Jordan's actual ground zero just might come to mind. "My studio is part of my home but it's not directly attached to my house. It's a separate building on the other side of my garage. It's just kind of a single room that has a ton of Midi-related gear, computer stuff, that's right through all my work. It's a very nice environment. It's got woods all around it, so I play and I've got my window for inspiration. I can just kind of look at the forest. It's in a suburb of New York but I live in the middle of a forest preserve so it's very peaceful."
For an effortlessly enjoyable and mentally replenishing keyboard music experience, look no further than Feeding The Wheel, a record that soars, swims and does musical marathons that seem superhuman to those back on safe ground watching. And for a demonstration of Rudess' confident skills within more of a band framework, check out Dream Theater in a very active 2002, as well as his important role on the next David Bowie album.
Click here to order Feeding the Wheel! Jordan Rudess' latest Magna Carta release is 4NYC.
Feeding the Wheel
Catalog # : MA-9055-2