Tiles Off the Floor...

Something had to be done to commemorate Tiles' approaching 20th anniversary, so the band devised "Off the Floor" as both a career retrospective and their first official live recording. Although pleased with the quality of the "Presence in Europe" bootleg (even Mike Portnoy couldn't believe it was direct from the live mix) the band has always wanted to do a proper multi-track live recording. With any luck, maybe the cryptic '01' on the CD cover hints there's even more...?

This is, admittedly, not your typical live CD with the seldom-touring band opting instead for the controlled environment of a soundstage. "Off the Floor" is all live..., but live in the studio. But even though you could count the audience on two hands there's no shortage of energy as Tiles delivers no frills versions of standout tracks from each of their five recordings. Complete with a bit of "stage" banter, a few "jazz" notes, and even a false start, Tiles lets us know this isn't a studio production.

The set list represents a portion of what the band played in support of 2008's "Fly Paper." Complete with a couple new interludes and adventurous extended jams, "Off the Floor" gives the listener more than a carbon copy of the studio versions. What's interesting is hearing the band's lifetime Detroit residency seeping out of the complicated prog rock constructions: a bit of garage rock looseness, Nugent abandon, Motown pulse, and a healthy dose of Elvin Jones' controlled chaos courtesy of Mark Evans' jazzy underpinnings. Lofty (and seemingly unrelated) references to be sure, but meant only in humble recognition of the inspiration and influence they provide...

Breaking up the routine are a couple songs featuring guest appearances by long-time collaborator Matthew Parmenter on violin, vocals, and mellotron; and the Motor City Horns' flautist Keith Kaminski. Especially noteworthy is the new arrangement of The Wading Pool - championed by Jeff to bring additional depth and color to the original's austerity.

In today's world of predictable and homogenous recordings wholly lacking in character, the magic ears of mixing engineer Terry Brown render a refreshingly natural sound. Harnessing the performances captured by Tiles' confidant Bob Phillips, Mr. Brown pulls it all together and puts everything is in its proper place. Serving up the audio equivalent of a Van Gogh where everything interacts and blends to create the big picture.

"Off the Floor" provides a fresh look at some old songs, adds a few new things, and gives Tiles fans something to tide them over until the next studio release appears.

Les Johnson