Mike Portnoy – “Prime Cuts”
“Mad March” - Andy West's Rama
“Freedom of Speech” - Liquid Tension Experiment
“Acid Rain” - Liquid Tension Experiment
“Endless Enigma” - Encores Legends & Paradox (ELP Tribute)
“Chris and Kevin’s Excellent Adventure” - Mike Portnoy and Tony Levin
“Working Man” - Working Man (Rush Tribute)
“By-Tor and the Snow Dog” - Working Man (Rush Tribute)
“Another Dimension” Vapourspace remix Liquid Tension Experiment
“Three Minute Warning Edit” - Liquid Tension Experiment
A collection of Mike's finest work from his Magna Carta sessions.
Performing with John Petrucci, Jordan Rudess, Billy Sheehan,
Andy West, Tony Levin, Sebastian Bach and Jake E Lee
You have your workaday drummers who pop up on a variety of recording dates
and then you have your signature drummers—the likes of Keith Moon, John
Bonham, Neil Peart, and Mike Portnoy. You can’t help but wonder how this
latter group might fare if they were to venture outside their self-made
empires of style and sound.
Indeed, you wonder about Mike Portnoy, with his stage-engulfing Siamese
Monster drumset and his penchant for creating complex drum parts
irrespective of time signature: Where would he be without Dream Theater?
After all, aside from making Portnoy a cult hero, that band facilitated his
flamboyant style and extravagant drumkit.
The answer to our question lies in the forum provided by Magna Carta
Records. Over the years, the label has provided Portnoy with a number of
diverse playing environments. Some of them, such as Liquid Tension
Experiment, have been wildly popular, so much so that cross-pollination has
occurred between mother group and spawn. Others have been, at very least,
provocative and musical. In all of them, the drummer’s essence shines, as is
evident in the current collection of choice Portnoy-fed tracks.
That “essence” is something that lies at root of what it is to be a drummer.
The vocation goes two ways: One faction is content to slug out a groove,
foregoing any extras or artifice—often on a four-piece drumkit. The other
insists on elaboration, ornamentation, and, for that purpose, gathers toms
and cymbals as the seashore attracts polished stones.
Mike Portnoy represents the perfect marriage of the garage band enthusiast
and the intellectual fusion artist. His exploration of that array of toms is
as playful as it is artsy, just as his integration of timbales is as
explorative as it is Latin. A few years back he told me, “I’m a drumset
player, not a percussionist. My interest in percussion is more of an
embellishment to drumset playing.” Accordingly, whatever diverse instrument
Mike brings home to his kit, he employs to good effect, creating brash
melodic runs or rousing exclamations. Meanwhile, it’s relentless bass drums
and washing cymbals—the heart of rock & roll. Portnoy gets to do it all.
This is plain in Mike Portnoy: Prime Cuts.
Take “Mad March”, for example, in which Portnoy accompanies Dixie Dreg’s
bassist Andy West. The drummer comes up from underneath, firing off barrages
of double bass drums in challenging patterns that seem to complexify and
invert themselves, injecting urgency into the apocalyptic vision.
We don’t get far into Liquid Tension Experiment’s “Freedom of Speech” before
we’re lighting up the wooden matches, especially as Petrucci’s first guitar
solo nears its peak! This is grand excitement. This is romance-epitomized
and, for Mike Portnoy, his finest hour. His drumming is built for the arena.
Rapid-fire sixteenth notes on closed hi-hats are the showers in “Acid Rain”,
the pitter-pattering echoed by Levin and Petrucci at various junctures.
Check out Portnoy’s “Gene Krupa” tom underlay at around the 1:48 minute
“Endless Enigma” alternates from gentle to chaotic. The church-like cadence
around the 2:00 point is a clever device, providing sanctuary and calm.
A drum roll sets us up for “Chris and Kevin’s Excellent Adventure”. We can
only assume that Liquid Tension Experiment’s Portnoy and Levin shared laughs
while recording this one. Mike’s rollicking half-time shuffle is the perfect
jaunty groove to complement a light-hearted, whistling theme.
“Working Man”, from the Rush tribute album of the same name, is as heavy as
heavy gets, a musical migraine spiked by Lee’s seamless scintillating
guitar. Much in the fashion of his stylistic predecessor, Neil Peart,
Portnoy chooses his spaces, filling them with double bass drum/tom clusters.
All the while, he forges ahead with the heavy touch of his mentor. This is
vintage, mid-seventies Rush repertoire and Portnoy is obviously comfortable
in his role.
“By-Tor and the Snow Dog”, another hats off to Rush, evolves into a
screamer (at least once the vocal takes over) that is equal parts Geddy and
Ozzy. Note the drum solos, ever increasing in intensity, interspersed
between ensemble themes.
“Another Dimension” is an effective Gage remix in which chattering snippets
of instrument voices and atypical snare drum timbres provide a haunting
backdrop. The Vapourspace remix introduces a steady stream of unusual
undulating tones, then slowly pulls them back, dissolving them into a mist
of white noise.
“Three Minute Warning Edit” begins as a funky, organ laced jam, and
graduates through various movements in the same key until it winds
down—perhaps due to a warning that the two-inch tape is at the end of the
reel! Portnoy’s opening contribution is joyfully bouncy, while his handling
of the various transitions is brilliant. Such freedom, such compositional
latitude! It reminds us why Mike Portnoy is the envy of the working drummer
who enjoys no such free reign.
Notes by T. Bruce Wittet, Modern Drummer writer, Associate Editor, Muzik