When Liquid Tension Experiment — drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Tony Levin, guitarist John Petrucci and keyboard player Jordan Rudess — got together back in 1998 to record their second album of improvised jams, Petrucci eventually bowed out when fatherhood beckoned earlier than expected. That left what became known as Liquid Trio Experiment to unload everything the remaining three players had in them over the course of two days in a pre-booked studio. Some of the results landed on 1999's Liquid Tension Experiment 2, while others somehow got misplaced during the mixing phase (or so we're told). But since Portnoy seems to record every damn note he plays for posterity, those long-lost tunes have resurfaced in the form of live two-track stereo DAT mixes now mastered to sound extra crunchy.
The result is a sequel of sorts to LTE2, although rawer and inexplicably more structured. Spontaneous Combustion consists of 13 tracks, and it often plays like it was recorded in three-song cycles. For example, the opening triumvirate of "Chris & Kevin's Bogus Journey," "Hot Rod" and "RPP" begins with a thick rhythmic vibe laid down by Portnoy and Levin and enhanced with effects, then segues into a majestic and melodic piece with Rudess all over it. The three pieces play like sort of a mini-soundtrack to some imaginary film. Same with the more aggressive, darker and jazzier "Cappuccino," "Jazz Odyssey" and "Fire Dance." The pretty piano interlude in "Fire Dance" comes at a perfect time, delicately celebrating the album's midway point before roaring into the second half — capped by several Portnoy showcases, including "Return of the Rubberband Man" and "Boom Boom."
This is improvised and unfiltered instrumental music that allows listeners to take a sonic peek back in time to when all-star projects like LTE were still a novelty. A decade later, these players are still considered among the best in the biz.
1) Chris & Kevin's Bogus Journey
2) Hot Rod
4) Hawaiian Funk
6) Jazz Odyssey
7) Fire Dance
8) The Rubberband Man
10) Tony's Nightmare
11) Boom Boom
12) Return of the Rubberband Man
13) Disneyland Symphony