Within the last twenty years keyboardist Jordan Rudess has been known predominantly for his work with progressive metal group Dream Theater and this show while addresses his activity as a member of that band, it encompasses his journey as a beginner musician through solo and session work to the present day. He starts the show seated at a piano and begins with an extended improvised piece and afterwards he states that no one including himself is likely to hear it again. He asks if anyone has recorded it to let him know as he’d love to hear it back again. So begins an enlightening show that has been appropriately titled From Bach to Rock: A Musician’s Journey.
Jordan’s relaxed conversational storytelling approach is well suited for the seated audience present in the environs of The Gov this evening. He takes us back to when he started at seven years old and his piano playing talent was recognised resulting in acceptance into the Julliard School of Music by playing the classical piece Partita No. 5 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach which he states was “where it all began”. He talks about playing quickly and emulating Glenn Gould and how when years later he posted a version online it was removed due to copyright reasons when it was thought to be Glenn Gould’s version.
At the time in the wider world outside of the realm of classical music, there was new musical technology being invented and experimentation in composition and Jordan describes his friends bringing a Moog synthesizer over to his house. He plays an excerpt of Tarkus by Emerson Lake & Palmer to illustrate his growing interest and fascination with prog music outside of the sphere of classical music that he had been immersed in. He continues in the vein of prog rock with a medley including Hey You by Pink Floyd, Entangled by Genesis, I Talk to the Wind (which he sings) and In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson. I am surprised to find myself humming along to Jordan’s playing like Glenn Gould or Keith Jarrett on one of their performance recordings.
This contrast between his classically training and his growing interest in prog and space rock (although to some there is a fine line as the two worlds can at times converge considerably) was something that Jordan was at time having difficulty reconciling due to the discipline that was expected of him from especially from his intense music teacher Adele Marcus. To emphasize the crux and when he felt he had to move away from the his classical studies to further engage in the world of progressive music, he plays Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op 23, by Frederic Chopin preceding it with the story of being asked to learn the twenty five pages of the piece and deciding that this overbearing task was the breaking point. It is interesting to note as I experienced this show that it successfully marries the dichotomy of a music fan having diverging interests between musical styles and having classical verses rock be the choice one thinks they have to choose between. This final piece of classical music is a fitting point at which Jordan has chosen to end the first portion of his show for an intermission.
He commences the second set with a story about playing in a Kiss cover band that leads him to becoming a member of early 80’s hopefuls Speedway Boulevard who unfortunately at the time did not have the success that Jordan had expected. His next song is a cover of the George Gershwin standard Summertime as an example of one of the go to songs he was playing at gigs in hotels, bars and restaurants after the band broke up.
Around this time Mike Portnoy, drummer from Dream Theater, asked him to join the supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment with Tony Levin and Mike’s Dream Theater colleague, John Petrucci. While telling the story, every time he says “supergroup” he amusingly embellishes it by playing a minor keyboard flourish. At this time in the late 90s he is again asked to join Dream Theater (after having declined previously) and he accepted and remains a member to this day. A selection is played from the Dream Theater album Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and there is a feeling that although the seated audience have been respectful and enjoying Jordan’s musical journey so far, this is really what they have been waiting for.
Jordan describes receiving a call from producer Tony Visconti and being asked to play on David Bowie’s album Heathen. He relates how during the twelve days of recording Bowie spontaneously started singing “Ground Control to Major Tom” during a jam due to the chord progression on one of the songs being similar to that of Space Oddity and Jordan plays and sings that song as a tribute.
His next song Interstices is introduced as one that integrates his classical and prog influences. It sounds like an alternate universe boogie band instrumental, the ultimate mix and mash up and brings to mind Keith Jarrett’s improvisational composition work from the Koln Concert album.
Jordan changes stations for what he calls the marketing portion of the show to demonstrate his software for iPad called GeoShred. Accompanied by a bass and drum 80s style backing track, he plays blues on the horizontal iPad like a pedal steel guitar and plays with his face and nose like Jimi Hendrix playing guitar with his teeth. As enjoyable as it was, I felt this was an unnecessary divergence from the purity of the show as up until that point Jordan had played everything else on the unadorned piano which he returned to for a song inspired by the Japan Tsunami simply called For Japan.
The final song for the night when he returns to encore he describes as the hardest song to ever learn to play and his journey comes full circle as to the amusement of the audience he plays Chopsticks and improvises by making it sound like a saloon bar recital.
I will confess to not being all that familiar with Jordan Rudess but that did not matter as this was a fitting primer for Jordan’s work before and during his continuing work with Dream Theater. The range of material performed was thoroughly enjoyable and although it is a cliché, there was something here for everyone. I hope that like myself others in attendance will be inspired to continue this musical exploration of Jordan’s past (and present).
Live Review by Jason Leigh