Dream Theater keyboard players tend to go their separate musical ways when they record solo albums. Kevin Moore, the band’s original keys man, created his ethereal Chroma Key project, while Derek Sherinian opted for gaudy progressive metal in his solo and Planet X work. Now Jordan Rudess, Dream Theater’s current keyboard genius (and the man who replaced Sherinian), arrives with his fourth solo album — a tour de force that musically acknowledges his vast background in Dream Theater, Liquid Tension Experiment and Dixie Dregs, and then takes that a step further.
Firmly rooted in the rock pantheon, Feeding the Wheel blends tasty elements of prog, jazz, classical, spoken word and even rap (!) — just listen to the midsection of “Revolving Door” for 11 of the most startling seconds in metal this year. Moody (“Shifting Sands”), modern (“Dreaming in Titanium’) and majestic (the Dream Theater-like “Revolving Door”), Feeding the Wheel offers enough subtle diversity to keep listeners intrigued for the disc’s 61-minute running time. (Incidentally, I’m not sure the same can be said about post-Dream Theater projects from Moore and Sherinian.) Rudess also took advantage of the latest technological innovations in his one-room studio adjacent to his suburban New York home. For example, he processed sampled chords through his Kurzweil to create a cool echo effect at the end of “Ucan Icon.” The song itself sounds like Nine Inch Nails on a diet in some segments, while other passages give off more of a prog-metal vibe. Meanwhile, Rudess pays homage to old-school prog on “Crack the Meter,” and occasionally drops in some bizarre voices and vocal effects, too.
Joining Rudess on various tracks are Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci, Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, drummer Terry Bozzio and bass player Billy Sheehan — making this an accomplished instrumental record of the highest order.