Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bozzio Levin Stevens - 1997 "Black Light Syndrome"

Black Light Syndrome is the first studio album by Bozzio Levin Stevens (a supergroup comprising drummer Terry Bozzio, bassist Tony Levin and guitarist Steve Stevens), released on July 15, 1997 through Magna Carta Records.

This power trio has famous roots, and they've brought it all together masterfully. First cut "The Sun Road" starts off like a tune off of David Gilmour's first solo album and then vanishes into a driving, power-chorded surge of soulful rock. Next, "Dark Corners" is a massive rocker that pulls you under its powerful whirlpool of guitar/bass/drum frenzy. Stevens tortures the guitar into absolute submission without any predictable riffs. Levin looms everywhere, and Bozzio flows in a polyrhythmic jungle. Fine interactive tension and execution everywhere. This goes way beyond King Crimson's Red days.
"Duende" opens with flamenco guitar firebursts, and slowly builds into a decent Spanish-flavored piece. Not my favorite, but well done. The title cut, "Black Light Syndrome," is obviously a play on "Bozzio Levin Stevens." It is a slower-paced dirge and filled to the brim with a variety of well-executed riffs, basslines, and drum tech.
"Falling in Circles" is an early Floydscape dotted with Ronnie Montrose leads, a ballad of driving determination and resolve. Floods of Satriani, Wishbone Ash, Alvin Lee, Fripp, Buck Dharma, and even that Duane Allman tone.
"Book of Hours" took me right back to Wheels of Fire's "Pressed Rat and Warthog," rainy-day dreamy afternoons with a fresh pot of designer coffee. Levin, Bozzio, and Stevens play off of one another precisely as one mind.
On the last cut, "Chaos/Control," you hear that "E7 breakdown" from Hendrix's "Midnight" on War Heroes, and then a jazzy boogie in classic Frank Marino style is laid down. Stevens is a guitarist with a wide range of dynamics.

Terry Bozzio, drummer for Frank Zappa and Jeff Beck. Tony Levin, bassist for King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. Steve Stevens, guitarist for Billy Idol and Michael Jackson. To the typical prog fan, Stevens may seem the odd man out in this trio, but guitar aficionados know that he is a well-respected guitarist and composer of Grammy Award-winning movie soundtracks. Initially conceived as a "names" project (like the Players session with Jeff Berlin, Scott Henderson, T Lavitz and Steve Smith), the endeavor evolved into a very special recording session.

Initiated by Bozzio, only he and Stevens had met before the recording session for a few jams, just to make sure the potential was present. Otherwise, none of the musicians had previously played together. The trio entered the recording studio for four days and spontaneously composed and played the seven songs on this disc.

The opening track, "The Sun Road," was the result of the first studio jam and the version here is the second take. In fact, each song was recorded live in only the first or second take, with no punch-ins to erase bum notes, etc. Before leaving the studio, Levin dubbed in a few extra bass lines with the Chapman Stick, bowed upright bass and so forth, for added tonal coloring. Stevens then took the tapes for five days to overdub some effects and a few extra guitar, guitar-synth and electric sitar lines.

For the most part, though, Black Light Syndrome is a live in the studio jam session with three excellent musicians. The songs were composed in one of two ways: the trio worked out some guideposts and improvised their way from one to the next, or simply let the creative juices flow as they may. Two songs fall into the latter category and, interestingly, they feature Stevens on Flamenco guitar on "Duente" and a jazzy acoustic guitar on "Book of Hours." His chordal work on "Book of Hours" reminded me of John McLaughlin from his Que Alegria album.

The remaining songs are generally oriented to the electric guitar. I do not know if the songs are presented in the order they were recorded, but certainly the chemistry among the three musicians seems to improve as the disc proceeds. The high point, for me, was "Falling in Circles." All three musicians click into a ferocious groove. Stevens' killer chops run the range from bluesy riffs to swirling "the UFOs are landing" metal licks. Bozzio is an outstanding drummer and I particularly liked his cymbal work. Levin simply demonstrates why he is one of the most respected and in-demand session bassists in the business today.

Regardless of whether you classify Black Light Syndrome as instrumental rock or progressive rock, I think you'll find it hard to deny that something wonderful happened when these three musicians entered the studio together."

This is another example of the musicians going into the studio with very little rehearsing and very little time. Four days to be truthful,but we'll let the product speak for itself.

The project started as an idea between Bozzio and Magna Carta's Pete Morticelli. Steve Stevens was suggested by Terry's wife and, as usual, Tony Levin was first choice but was never really considered an option due to his busy schedule.

Terry Bozzio was a name that I had heard of in the music scene but had never heard any of his work. I didn't know what I was missing! He is able to play the fastest and freakest fills / solos I ever heard on any album. Check out the fills in "Chaos/Control" or "Dark Corners"! He has jumped from just a name to one of my favorite drummers. He is up there with the likes of Steve Gadd, Mike Portnoy, Neil Peart, Tim Alexander, etc. This whole album is a highlight of his talent and ability to play many types of musical styles. Also I would like to point out the greatest symbol sound I have heard,I'm not sure if it's the recording or the symbols themselves but I love it!

Tony Levin. What can be said of this guy that hasn't been said a hundred times already? He is the most innovative and diverse bass player I can think of. His master of the instrument has put him on everybody's favorite bass player list. On this album he uses both the bass and the chapman stick,which adds to the diversity of sound on the album. He even uses some distorted bass on "Dark Corners"! I guess the only thing to say he has once again been able to lay a solid foundation will doing some of the coolest lines in the world.

Steve Stevens was the only name that I had doubts about. I was only aware of his playing with Billy Idol and Michael Jackson, which disturbed me a little. I never thought of Steve as an experimental or progressive guitar player but once again I have been pleasently surprised by this album and found that Steve was a good choice for the album. His guitar was quite subdued at times just playing a melody that was perfect to the song, for example "The Sun Road." On the other side I find his use of effects and the whammy bar to be a bit extreme. My highlight of his playing is the acoustic guitar on such tracks as "Duende."

Overall this album has no problems becoming one of my favorite of the Magna Carta label. It gives each instrument / player their own space to explore. I would have no reservations recommending this album to any progressive fan.

...essentially it is a perfect melding of jazz, progressive rock, ambient and just plain jamming that has anovertly '90s feel. This is best exemplified in the stunning, near 15-minute opener "The Sun Road," which highlights all the band's strengths as it begins a melodic fusion-like number and builds in intensity with thunderous percussion and brilliant guitar work that includes some eerie electric leads and fluid flamenco acoustic fills. "Duende" finds each band member playing off the other in this exotic and melodic piece.

Stevens again shines with his flowing acoustic playing. Better still is the brilliant title cut with its tougher textures and slightly Hendrix-like soloing. This really is an exceptional and original album by three musicians who seem to have a good musical empathy and may prove to be the power trio of the decade.

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Terry Bozzio, Tony Levin and Steve Stevens.

1.     "The Sun Road"       14:39
2.     "Dark Corners"       8:32
3.     "Duende"       7:26
4.     "Black Light Syndrome"       8:45
5.     "Falling in Circles"       9:08
6.     "Book of Hours"       9:42
7.     "Chaos/Control"       8:48

Total length:


    Steve Stevens – guitar, production
    Tony Levin – Chapman stick, bass, production
    Terry Bozzio – drums, production



  2. Hi thank you for sharing this very good album
    If you want to enjoy the genius of Steve Stevens try the album "Steve Stevens - Memory Crash - 2008"
    he is very brilliant and underrated
    - a fan of your blog from Tunisia!

  3. Hola Amigo: me gusta mucho tu blog, tiene cosas muy interesantes, lo unico que tengo para criticar es que no tienes para compartir, soy un apasionado de la musica y me gusta compartir con quienes no tienen la posibilidad de conseguir muchas cosas raras como las llamamos nosotros, un abrazo