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Tony Levin
Prime Cuts
Catalog # MA-1002-2

Price : $16.98

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Tony Levin: Prime Cuts
(From His Magna Carta Sessions)
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Those who complain that critics categorize their music and pigeonhole their work would do
well to heed the example of Tony Levin. The bassist and multi-instrumentalist, who departed
Rochester in 1970 to take on New York City and subsequently the world, is one of the rare
few that lives a life of sacrifice to the creative muse—wherever it takes him. Over the last
thirty-some years, that muse has lured him into recording collaborations with the major
artists of our era, everyone from John Lennon to Peter Gabriel, King Crimson to Alice Cooper,
T Bone Burnett to David Bowie, Tracy Chapman to The Indigo Girls.

Although nominally a bassist, Levin has transcended the bounds of that instrument. Few
can equal his pursuit of excellence on projects that find him comfortable in the largest of
stadiums and the smallest of clubs. Invariably Levin generates well-considered parts that
are compositional and not merely rhythmically or harmonically interesting. When Tony Levin
agrees to participate with an artist, witness the stellar examples in this Magna Carta comp-
ilation, he becomes a key actor, never part of the scenery. Always he demonstrates an
abiding awareness of the traditional role of bass while challenging himself to explore the
possibilities . When Tony found the Precision bass limiting, or at least inappropriate, he
seized the Chapman Stick and became one of the world’s greatest exponents of the multi-
stringed instrument that is tapped rather than plucked. That tapping component also figures
in a Tony Levin innovation, the Funk Fingers—drumstick extensions of his fingers used to
generate ultimate attack and tone. Then there is the three-string bass.

What you hear on Tony Levin Prime Cuts are six examples of his ability to inject a contem-
porary edge. When an artist asks Tony Levin to record, he or she knows that the music will
gain a hip awareness that goes far beyond the itinerant session bassist’s stock and trade.
Speaking in praise of Levin, Magna Carta’s Pete Morticelli notes that, “Tony is a special,
mystical kind of guy. He is the one everyone calls when they need someone special to play
bass. He’s unparalleled when it comes to reputation, credibility, and recognizeability. We
were lucky to have worked with Tony on several projects that he really invested himself in:
That music is on this disc.”

Within the Magna Carta fold Tony joined similarly driven musicians. Thus on Prime Cuts’
“Kindred Spirits”, we see Levin in Liquid Tension Experiment alongside Mike Portnoy,
Jordan Rudess, and John Petrucci. This is no timid track! Although the energy suggests a
live recording, this is studio mastery and features Levin weaving strands of bass, Stick, and
upright. Here we see his essential traits in abundance: his ability to anchor a piece of music
while injecting adrenaline; his knack of providing harmonic depth and interest; and, not least,
his mission to rock!

“T & T Vignette” is a treat, an unreleased track from the Black Light Syndrome sessions,
fea turing Levin and another pioneer, Terry Bozzio, who together create a probing collage
of sounds.

An appropriate title we have in “Another Dimension”, one culled from the repertoire of Liquid
Tension Experiment2. Again, Tony stretches the boundaries of Stick and bass to achieve
the required intensity, balancing himself against Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci, and Jordan
Rudess. Check out the brilliant shift from a probing ostinato to a flamenco-Argentinean
folkloric passage (roughly 6:22). Talk about tension and release!

“Dark Corners” is a remix from the Bozzio Levin Stevens album Sonic Residue From Vapour-
space produced by Mark Gage. Vapourspace’s Gage captures the symbiosis that is so inte-
gral to this ensemble and spotlights the sonic side trips to the nether regions that provide a
foil to the pressing rhythmic motifs.

From Magellan’s album Hundred Year Flood, “Brother’s Keeper”, begins pastoral-it could
be Steeleye Span—until Levin enters with a gaunt, growling bass line that signals the
Industrial Revolution! Trent Gardner, Wayne Gardner, and Joe Franco match Levin’s ferocity.
Take note of how Levin maintains a consistent, top-of-the-beat surging where others might
tend to drag.

“Endless”, from Bozzio Levin and Stevens’ Situation Dangerous presents numerous
interesting facets. One of these rears up at 6:26 and features Levin holding down a
plundering tonality and unflinching groove in what seems to be a 9/8 time signature. In
typical Levin style he maintains a selfless balance, letting Stevens soar while staying
himself grounded.

Ever searching, ever lucid in his thoughts, and creative output, Tony Levin continues to deliver
his eminently contemporary approach to a multitude of projects large and small. In terms of
raw creative force, technical execution, and brute energy, Levin puts men half his age to
shame. Magna Carta is proud to salute a vibrant creative entity with Tony Levin Prime Cuts,
released in recognition of a long and fruitful association.

Notes by T. Bruce Wittet,
Muzik Etc editor, Modern Drummer writer, and People Will Talk Media founder.


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