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Posts Tagged ‘Trey Gunn’

Music Is My Only Friend – 2015 in Review

SDC14875

First off, I feel the need to apologize to my readers for the string of rather depressing titles given to my “Year in Review” posts. No matter how optimistic I try to be at the beginning of a new year, life always finds a way to disappoint my expectations. 2015, though, was special – for all the wrong reasons. Even now that things are going somewhat better (though far from ideal), I still occasionally feel the urge to withdraw from everyone – hence the not exactly uplifting title of this piece.

This sorry state of affairs obviously impacted my inspiration as regards writing reviews and the like. My blog was neglected for most of the year, with only 9 posts in 12 months, and the few label owners who regularly sent me their material took me off their mailing lists – which contributed to my feelings of isolation, even if I cannot blame them for that. Music remained nevertheless a constant source of comfort, thanks to the ready availability of new (and not so new) material on streaming services such as Progstreaming and Bandcamp. This allowed me to listen to most of the albums I was interested in, and keep in touch with a scene that I have been steadily supporting for the past few years. Some days I had to force myself to listen, but thankfully things got easier with time.

Although full-length reviews were thin on the ground, I kept up my collaboration with Andy Read’s excellent weekly feature Something for the Weekend?, as well as my activity as a member of the RIO/Avant/Zeuhl genre team (also known as ZART) at my “alma mater”, ProgArchives. In the second half of the year i was able to resume writing longer reviews, not only for my blog, but also for DPRP – though not yet on a regular basis. On the other hand, our concert attendance hit an all-time low. To be fair, ProgDay 2015’s extremely high level of quality more than made up for the many other gigs that we ended up missing. The only other show we attended was The Muffins’ one-off performance at the Orion Studios in mid-May, which unfortunately I was unable to enjoy as much as it would have deserved.

As usual, the amount of new music released in 2015 under the ever-expanding “prog” umbrella was staggering, and required a rather selective approach. The year just ended further proved that the scene is splintering in a way that, while it may help people more effectively to find music that appeals to their tastes, may also in the long run cause harm – especially as regards the live scene. Festivals in the US have further shrunk in number, with the cancellation (and apparent demise) of the NJ Proghouse Homecoming Weekend leaving only ROSfest and ProgDay still standing. Europe seems to be faring somewhat better (though one has to wonder how long this will last), and festivals appealing to a broad range of tastes within the prog spectrum continue to be reasonably well-attended.

On a positive note, websites dedicated to prog are going strong, as is the rather controversial Prog magazine (whose fan I am definitely not). It remains to be seen if what has always been a niche market (even in the Seventies, when bands that enjoyed commercial success were just the tip of a very large iceberg) will be able to keep up with such a vast output in the following years. In some ways, as I also observed in last year’s post, going underground has freed progressive rock from the constraints of appealing to market tastes, but (in my view at least) the opportunity for almost everyone to produce an album and put it on Bandcamp or Soundcloud poses a lot of questions as regards quality control.

Some of my readers will undoubtedly notice the absence of some of the year’s higher-profile releases. As I did last year, I decided to avoid mentioning albums I had found disappointing or just plain uninteresting, as well as those I have not yet managed to hear. A lot of other people have mentioned those albums in their own Year in Review pieces, and I think there is no use in pointing out the negative instead of concentrating on the positive. Compared with some of the previous years, 2015 started out in rather low-key fashion, with many highly anticipated releases concentrated in its second half. On the other hand, the first part of the year brought albums that are very well worth checking out, though they may never enjoy the status of other discs. It was also a year that, while prodigal with very good releases, mostly lacked genuine masterpieces. On the whole, I feel I have just scratched the surface, as perusing the myriad of Best of 2015 lists published on the web constantly reveals some album I have not heard of before.

As I mentioned in last year’s post, my tastes have been steadily moving away from “standard” prog, though a few albums that qualify as such have been included here. In fact, my personal #1 album of the year was released by a band that first got together in the late Seventies, and is probably closer to “conventional” prog than people would expect from me. However, Hands’ masterful Caviar Bobsled is a unique album that does not really sound like anything else, definitely fresher and more modern than a lot of highly praised albums by artists who have been active for a much shorter time.

Having promoted US prog for a while now, I am glad to report that the American scene produced some fine specimens over the past few months – with the NY/NJ region being again very much in evidence. Brilliant releases from The Tea Club (Grappling), 3RDegree (Ones & Zeros Vol. 1) and Advent (Silent Sentinel) highlighted the work of bands that have reached full maturity in terms of musicianship and compositional flair. To this outstanding trio I would also add Echolyn’s I Heard You Listening (more of a slow grower than their career-defining 2012 album) IZZ’s stylish Everlasting Instant, as well as a couple of well-crafted albums with a more traditional bent, both recommended to keyboard lovers – Kinetic Element’s sophomore effort, Travelog, and Theo’s debut, the dystopian concept The Game of Ouroboros.

All of the above-mentioned albums offer plenty of sophisticated music with great melodic potential, standing at the crossroads between tradition and modernity. The contemporary US scene, however, is also rife with cutting-edge artists that constantly challenge the perceptions of their intended audience. Works such as Upsilon Acrux’s highly charged Sun Square Dialect, the hypnotic math-rock of BattlesLa Di Da Di, Stern’s gloomily haunting Bone Turquoise, The Nerve Institute’s idiosyncratic Fictions (containing previously unreleased material), Ben Levin Group’s “pronk” opus Freak Machine (featuring most members of Bent Knee), Jack O’The Clock’s Outsider Songs (a collection of quirky covers), and Andrew Moore Chamber Works’ intriguing debut Indianapolis (steel drums meet chamber rock) proved the vitality of the US avant-garde scene. Thinking Plague (whose new album is expected in 2016), reissued their seminal debut, In This Life, while two albums involving previous or current members of the band – Ligeia Mare’s Amplifier and +1’s Future Perfect (the latter one of the many projects of keyboardist/composer Kimara Sajn) – helped to make the wait more bearable. Another fine Avant-related album (though in a more song-based vein), Omicron, came from former Alec K Redfearn and the Eyesore’s vocalist, Orion Rigel Dommisse.

New, highly eclectic releases by “jazzgrass proggers” Galactic Cowboy Orchestra (Earth Lift) and Yes-meets-country trio Dreadnaught (the EP Gettin’ Tight With Dreadnaught), Marbin’s fiery Aggressive Hippies, Djam Karet’s supremely trippy Swamp of Dreams, Fernwood’s delightful acoustic confection Arcadia, Mammatus’s monumental stoner-prog opus Sparkling Waters, and ethereal chamber-folk duo Fields Burning’s eponymous debut also illustrated the versatility  of a scene that is all too often associated with heavily AOR-tinged music.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the British scene has been experiencing a renaissance in terms of creative modern progressive rock. Top of the heap, and definitely one of the best 2015 releases as far as I am concerned, were two Cardiacs-related albums: William D. Drake’s superb Revere Reach, one of those rare discs that are impossible to label, as well as being a delight from start to finish, and Guapo’s hypnotic, surging Obscure Knowledge. Thieves’ Kitchen’s stately, poignant The Clockwork Universe, with its original take on “classic” prog modes, completed my personal trinity of top 2015 British releases.

The runners-up, however, are all quite deserving of attention from discerning prog fans. Richard Wileman’s über-eclectic Karda Estra regaled its followers with a whopping three releases – the full-length Strange Relations (recorded with the involvement of The Muffins’ drummer extraordinaire Paul Sears), and the EPs The Seas and the Stars and Future Sounds (the latter also featuring Sears). Guitarist Matt Stevens’ The Fierce and the Dead made a comeback with the intense EP Magnet, and A Formal Horse’s second EP, Morning Jigsaw, provided a British answer to Bent Knee and MoeTar. John Bassett (of Kingbathmat fame) produced an exciting follow-up (simply titled II) to the 2014 debut of his instrumental, stoner-prog solo project, Arcade Messiah; in a similar vein, the cinematic psych/space of Teeth of the Sea’s Highly Deadly Black Tarantula. To further prove that the modern British prog is definitely not steeped in nostalgia, Colin Robinson’s Jumble Hole Clough brought us more of his quirky, electronics-infused antics with A List of Things That Never Happened, and Firefly Burning a heady dose of drone-folk with their latest effort, Skeleton Hill.

Plenty of great music also came out of continental Europe. From Scandinavia, one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated albums – Anekdoten’s Until All the Ghosts Are Gone – delivered amply in the quality stakes, as did the scintillating electro-jazz of Jaga Jazzist’s Starfire, Pixel’s warmer, more organic Golden Years, the rambling, keyboard-based jazz-rock of Hooffoot’s debut, Agusa’s space-rock workout Två, the quirky Avant-Prog of Simon Steensland’s A Farewell to Brains, Necromonkey’s all-electronic extravaganza Show Me Where It Hertz, and another long-overdue comeback – Dungen’s sunny Allas Sak – as well as guitarist Samuel Hällkvist’s highly original effort Variety of Live, recorded with an international cast including Pat Mastelotto and Richard Barbieri. Dungen’s guitarist, Reine Fiske, also appeared on elephant9’s highly praised Silver Mountain – the only album mentioned here that I have not yet managed to hear. Heading east, the intriguing, though not widely known, Russian scene produced the haunting psychedelic rock blended with shamanistic chanting of Ole Lukkoye’s Dyatly, The Grand Astoria’s ambitious crossover The Mighty Few, and the lush symphonic-Avant of Roz VitalisLavoro d’Amore.

The thriving French scene presented Avant fans with Unit Wail’s psyche-Zeuhl opus Beyond Space Edge, Ni’s electrifying Les Insurgés de Romilly, Ghost Rhythms’ elegant Madeleine, and Alco Frisbass’ Canterbury-inspired debut. Switzerland, on the other hand, seems to have become a hotbed for all forms of “post-jazz”, with two outstanding Cuneiform releases – Schnellertollermeier’s exhilarating X, and Sonar’s more understated Black Light – as well as IkarusEcho and Plaistow’s Titan. Germany brought the omnivorous jazz-metal of Panzerballett’s Breaking Brain, and Belgium Quantum Fantay’s pulsating space trip Dancing in Limbo. From the more southern climes of Greece and Spain came Ciccada’s lovely, pastoral sophomore effort, The Finest of Miracles, the intriguing Mediterranean math rock of El Tubo Elástico’s eponymous debut, and Ángel Ontalva’s sublime, Oriental-tinged Tierra Quemada.

Italy, as usual, did its part, turning out a panoply of albums of consistently high quality. Fans of the classic RPI sound found a lot to appreciate in La Coscienza di Zeno’s third effort, La Notte Anche di Giorno, Ubi Maior’s ambitious Incanti Bio-Meccanici, and also the harder-edged Babylon by VIII Strada. Not A Good Sign’s comeback, From A Distance, combined Italian melodic flair and Crimsonesque angularity, while Pensiero Nomade’s Da Nessun Luogo introduced haunting female vocals into jazzy/ambient textures. The very title of Slivovitz’s All You Can Eat illustrated the boisterous eclecticism of the Naples-based outfit, and feat.Esserelà’s classy debut Tuorl was a welcome addition to the ranks of modern jazz-rock.

2015 was a great year for fans of the Canterbury sound, witnessing the release of the third installment of the Romantic Warriors documentary series (aptly titled Canterbury Tales) just a few months after the passing of Daevid Allen, one of the scene’s most iconic figures. Moreover, two outstanding Canterbury-related albums came from two vastly different parts of the world: Blue Dogs, the debut by Manna/Mirage, The Muffins’ Dave Newhouse’s new project, and Sicilian outfit Homunculus Res’ brilliant second album, Come Si Diventa Ciò Che Si Era (with Newhouse guesting on the epic “Ospedale Civico”). The latter is one of the finest 2015 releases from my native Italy, a distinction shared with the supremely elegant chamber-rock of Breznev Fun Club’s second album, Il Misantropo Felice (both albums were released on the ever-reliable AltrOck Productions label), and with OTEME’s beautiful comeback, L’Agguato. L’Abbandono. Il Movimento.

AltrOck (whose 2016 schedule looks mouthwatering, to say the least) is also responsible for two of the year’s most distinctive albums: the ultra-eclectic, vocal-based Everyday Mythology by Loomings, a French-Italian ensemble put together by Yugen’s Jacopo Costa, and multinational quintet Rêve Général’s stunning debut Howl (the latest endeavour by former Etron Fou Leloublan drummer Guigou Chenevier). Another debut related to the original RIO scene came with Logos, by English-based quartet The Artaud Beats, featuring drummer Chris Cutler and bassist John Greaves; while Stepmother’s wacky, Zappaesque Calvary Greetings spotlights another multinational outfit, which includes legendary drummer Dave Kerman.

Though in 2015 the latest incarnation of King Crimson released Live at the Orpheum (recorded in LA during their 2014 US tour), there seems to be hardly any new material in sight from the legendary band. Luckily, last year brought a few KC-related albums that are well worth exploring – especially for those who favour the band’s harder-edged output: namely, Pat Mastelotto’s new trio KoMaRa’s dark, gritty self-titled debut (with disturbing artwork by Tool’s Adam Jones), Chicago-based math-rock trio Pavlov3 (featuring Markus Reuter) with Curvature-Induced Symmetry…Breaking, and Trey Gunn’s haunting, ambient-tinged The Waters, They Are Rising.

Other, less widely exposed countries also yielded a wealth of interesting music during the past year. Out of Chile (one of the most vital modern prog scenes) came the good-time Avant-Prog of Akinetón Retard’s Azufre; while, on the other side of the Pacific, Indonesia continues to produce high-quality music, brought to light by Moonjune Records’ irrepressible Leonardo Pavkovic. Guitar hero Dewa Budjana’s Hasta Karma and Joged Kahyangan , and keyboardist Dwiki Dharmawan’s So Far, So Close showcase the unique fusion of Western jazz-rock and the island nation’s rich musical heritage.

No 2015 retrospective would be complete without a mention of the many losses sustained by the music world during the past year. The passing of legendary Yes bassist and founder Chris Squire was undoubtedly a traumatic event for prog fans, while the demise of heavy rock icon (and former Hawkwind member) Lemmy a few days before the end of the year was mourned by the rock community at large. Though, of course, the heroes of the Seventies are not getting any younger, neither of these seminal figures was old for today’s standards – unlike jazz trumpeter Ornette Coleman and bluesman B.B. King, who had both reached respectable ages.

As I stated at the beginning of this post, most of the music I have recommended would not qualify as “real prog” for many listeners. It does, however, reflect the direction my tastes have taken in the past few years, and I hope it will lead to new discoveries. Whenever possible, I have provided links to the artists’ Bandcamp pages, where my readers will be able to stream the albums (and hopefully also buy them). For the vast majority of the artists mentioned in this article, music is a labour of love rather than a day job. Though progressive music is alive and well in the second decade of the third millennium, and 2016 already looks very promising in terms of new releases, the scene – now more than ever – needs to be supported if we really want it to survive.

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Down In Shadows [Part I] (8:03)
2. Day After Day (4:42)
3. Colour (3:01)
4. O.Y.O [On Your Own] (6:26)
5. Wait (5:20)
6. C18H21NO3-30 mg Kodeina (1:44)
7. Down In Shadows [Part II – Including Crime] (10:54)

LINEUP:
Walter F. – voices, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, loops and devices, synthesizers (vocoder)
Danilo A. Pannico – acoustic and electronic drums, percussions, piano, marimba, kaos-harmonica and glass, Farfisa organ, loops and devices

With:
Adina Bajenica – soprano voice (6)
David Jackson – sax, flutes, devices (2,4,7)
Marco Allocco – cello (1,3,6,7)
Trey Gunn – Warr guitar and soundscapes (1-7), touch bass (1)

Named after the Greek goddess of night, N.y.X. is a project by a duo of talented multi-instrumentalists, Danilo A. Pannico and Walter F., based in the north-western Italian region of Piedmont.  Their recording debut, a self-titled EP released in 2005, was followed in 2009 by Down in Shadows, their first full-length CD, released on Electromantic Music, the label founded by  Arti e Mestieri’s keyboardist Beppe Crovella.

I first encountered N.y.X. last year, when reviewing Trey Gunn’s double-CD compilation I’ll Tell What I Saw, which included “Down in Shadows [Part I]”. The presence of two legends of progressive rock such as Gunn and former Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson aptly represents the nature of N.y.X.’s musical offer, which seems to straddle the line between tradition and modernity. Indeed, VDGG (who have had a strong following in Italy since the early days of the prog movement) are by far the most noticeable influence on N.y.X.’s music. This is not to say that N.y.X. sound derivative, but rather that their compositional approach parallels VDGG’s skillfully achieved balance of slow-burning melody and unbridled chaos (as exemplified by their magnum opus “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”).

Those who still believe that Italian progressive rock is for the most part sickly sweet and heavily keyboard-laden with operatic vocals should get ready to have those convictions challenged when listening to Down in Shadows – a concept album dealing with the topics of loneliness and betrayal. Not surprisingly, and quite fittingly, the music is dense and often aggressive, packed with riffs and martial drum beats, interspersed by ominously rarefied pauses – in which electronic effects and treated vocals hold sway – and almost deceptively melodic, laid-back moments. Walter F.’s idiosyncratic vocal approach often brings to mind Peter Hammill or Adrian Belew, as well as emotionally charged Italian prog singers of the classic era such as Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella. The fluid, eerily reverberating soundscapes created by Gunn’s touch guitars temper the more upfront moments, while David Jackson’s signature style enhances the music’s expressive potential.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, and featuring seven tracks between 2 and 11 minutes, Down in Shadows is a quintessentially eclectic effort that packs a lot in its unusually compact running time. “Down in Shadows [Part I]” opens with the understated sound of a carillon, eventually exploding into harsh riffs and supercharged drumming – like King Crimson on steroids; a magnificent, Eastern-tinged Warr guitar solo vies for attention with Walter F.’s dramatic vocal performance. The much shorter “Day After Day” continues on a similar path, blending the mainstream overtones of its low-key, acoustic beginning with the unabashed experimentalism of the second half (complete with the sound of a ringing phone and subsequent recorded message). “Colour” and “O.Y.O. [On Your Own]” offer more permutations of those melody-noise dynamics – the former driven by piano and cello, the latter conjuring reminiscences of Eighties King Crimson with its subtle tempo shifts, while the vocals definitely channel Peter Hammill.

On “Wait” the haunting soundscapes expertly woven by Gunn’s Warr guitar merge with slightly breathy, sensitive Hammillesque vocals with a touch of Roger Waters; from an instrumental point of view, the track reminded me of the approach adopted by Herd of Instinct on their 2011 debut album. The short almost-instrumental “C18H21NO3-30 mg Kodeina” – in which a soprano voice is backed by cello, piano and eerie feedback effects – introduces “Down in Shadows [Part II]”, a nearly11-minute tour de force with a dynamic, VDGG-inspired, vocal-driven first half , a subdued middle section that makes good use of cellist Marco Allocco’s tango background, and an instrumental third half in turns chaotic and atmospheric. The vaguely sinister tinkle of carillon reappears at the end, bringing the album (and the story) full circle.

Three years after the release of Down in Shadows, N.y.X. seem to be very much on hiatus, with the two artists pursuing other projects. Hopefully an album that shows so much promise will not turn out to be a one-off, even though the current non-mainstream music scene is anything but easy to navigate. However things develop in the N.y.X. camp, Down in Shadows is a worthwhile effort, highly recommended to fans of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator, as well as followers of the variegated “modern prog” galaxy. A special mention is deserved by the stylish CD  booklet, which includes a stunning upside-down photo of the chandelier in the entrance of Antoni Gaudí’s iconic Casa Batlló.

Links:
http://www.nyxsound.com/

http://www.myspace.com/nyxsound

http://www.electromantic.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Invisible Rays (22:19)
2. The Magic Ring of Invisibility (6:50)
3. Where Is Juan? (5:52)
4. The Secret Handshake With Danger (6:21)
5. Greatest Hits (1:04)
6. The Last Guru (4:55)
7. Take A Bath With Lenin (2:13)
8. Ghost Red Wires (4:25)
9. Invisibility Clause (4:35)
10. Understudy To The Stars (0:18)
11. An Unusually Nice Hotel (12:40)

LINEUP:
Morgan Ågren – drums, zither
Trey Gunn – touch guitar, bass
Henry Kaiser – guitar

Born from a fortuitous encounter between three outstanding musicians with a distinguished career in the field of progressive music, Invisible Rays seems to embody the very definition of “one-off”. The album is the result of an impromptu jam that took place in March 2011, when Warr guitarist Trey Gunn (known for his tenure with King Crimson in the late Nineties), San Francisco guitarist Henry Kaiser (one of the pioneers of American free improvisation) and Swedish drummer Morgan Ågren (of Zappa, Kaipa and Mats/Morgan fame) found themselves with some time on their hands before a presentation at a music conference in Sweden. When they first heard the rough mixes, the sheer quality of the recordings took them by surprise, in spite of the almost completely unstructured nature of the material.

The above description makes it clear that Invisible Rays is the product of a spur-of-the-moment situation, prompted by a unique set of circumstances that allowed the three artists to make music together for the first time. While the bulk of the tracks do have a semblance of compositional structure, the two pieces that bookend the album are intentionally loose and sprawling, brimming with the simple joy of playing without a recognizable script. The title-track, strategically positioned at the opening of the album, acts as a sort of gatekeeper, its intensely powerful 22 minutes occasionally bordering on white noise. Kaiser’s guitar tone can turn almost unbearably sharp, aided and abetted by Ågren’s explosive drumming, while the eerie wail of Gunn’s Warr guitar supplies a gentler undercurrent. While certainly not cohesive, and the kind of stuff that is more than likely to scare the more conservative prog  set away, the track often hints at King Crimson’s live improvisations, though in some ways brasher and bolder.

Interestingly, though the three artists produce an impressive volume of sound, there is also a minimalistic aspect to the music, due to the  limited number of instruments involved. Rhythm is very much at the heart of Invisible Rays, with Ågren’s supercharged drumming all over the place, setting the pace for Kaiser’s wild guitar exertions and Gunn’s more sedate, atmospheric contribution. Tantalizing ethnic suggestions – one of the constant features of Gunn’s extensive output – emerge in “The Magic Ring of Invisibility”, which acts as a foil to the unbridled improvisation of the title-track, and at the opening of “The Last Guru”, before things turn more dissonant, with an almost metal-like sense of aggression.

Only “Ghost Red Wires” maintains a hauntingly mellow mien throughout its 4 minutes, the guitar sound flowing smoothly in contrast with its imperious presence in most of the other tracks; while in “Where Is Juan?”, Gunn and Ågren indulge in some funky sparring. In closer “An Unusually Nice Hotel”, the slow, solemn pace of the drums – which provides a steady, nearly unchanging backdrop throughout the whole 12 minutes of the track –  and the mournful tone of the Warr guitar are offset by the gradual progress of Kaiser’s piercing, abrasive guitar.

Clocking in at a hefty 71 minutes, Invisible Rays – which comes packaged in a striking cover out of a Fifties science fiction B-movie – is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Even staunch King Crimson fans might find the album a somewhat daunting proposition, while lovers of free improvisation are bound to appreciate it much more than those who prize melodic content or compositional cohesion. A worthwhile testimony of a unique opportunity, it may, however, ultimately prove less than satisfying because of its basically raw (though powerful) nature. Therefore, the album is probably not the best bet for those who would like to get acquainted with Trey Gunn’s outstanding contribution to the cause of progressive music.

Links:
http://www.treygunn.com

http://www.morganagren.com

http://www.thehenrykaisercollection.blogspot.com

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:

CD1
1. Hymn (4:29)
2. The Joy of Molybdenum (feat. The Trey Gunn Band) (5:29)
3. The Fifth Spin of the Sun (2:04)
4. Val El Diablo (feat. Alonso Arreola) (4:35)
5. Morning Dream (feat. Sergey Klevensky) (6:49)
6. Real Life (5:12)
7. Maslenitsa (feat. The Farlanders) (9:31)
8. Gallina (1:05)
9. Dziban (6:15)
10. Misery, Misery, Die, Die, Die… (feat. TU) (1:55)
11. Pole (0:44)
12. Thick and Thorny (feat. Quodia) (2:35)
13. Down Spin (1:13) 14. Absinthe & A Cracker (feat. TU) (3:17)
15. The Shimmering (2:23)
16. Fandango (feat. TU) (4:05)
17. Well (feat. Inna Zhelannaya) (5:56)

CD2
1. Jacaranda (feat. KTU) (3:57)
2. The Magnificent Jinn (3:24)
3. Contact (3:50)
4. Drunk (feat. Inna Zhelannaya) (6:26)
5. Killing for London (6:32)
6. Kuma (4:29)
7. Single Cell Shark (feat. Matte Henderson) (3:31)
8. Cheeky (feat. matt Chamberlin) (3:33)
9. Make My Grave in the Shape of a Heart (feat. TU) (1:24)
10. Spectra (1:57)
11. Capturing the Beam (1:23)
12. Hard Winds (3:05)
13. Arrakis (feat. The Trey Gunn Band) (6:54)
14. Flood (3:17)
15. Untamed Chicken (feat. TU) (4:15)
16. Down in Shadows (feat. N.Y.X.) (4:44)
17. Californ-a-tron (0:49)
18. Vals (feat. Sergey Klevensky) (3:18)
19. 9:47 P.M. (feat. Saro Cosentina) (5:03)

Reviewing a compilation obviously involves a rather different process than reviewing an album of completely new material. My readers will forgive me if this write-up is not as detailed as my reviews usually are, and, for instance, does not include information on all the musicians featured on every track. In this particular case, the compilation is a 2-CD package, comprising a total of 36 tracks spanning almost 20 years of the career of one of the most interesting artists on the current music scene – Texas-born touch guitarist, composer and multimedia storyteller  Trey Gunn, known to the majority of prog fans for his 10-year stint in King Crimson.

I have to admit to having been for quite a long time largely unfamiliar with Gunn’s musical output outside Fripp’s legendary band and a handful of scattered tracks from some of his solo projects. However, two years ago I had the opportunity to see him perform live as a guest of Eddie Jobson’s UKZ project, and was highly impressed by his skills and warm stage personality. Later, I found out that he was born exactly two days before me – perhaps not very relevant from a musical point of view, but an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless.

Released in November 2010, I’ll Tell What I Saw is jam-packed with extremely stimulating music taken from the numerous albums recorded by Gunn in the years from 1993 to the present day, both in his own name or with various other projects featuring international artists. Running at over 2 hours, it manages to sustain a consistently high level of quality, with hardly any filler at all, offering a heady mix of musical styles interpreted with flair, skill and soul. Indeed, Trey Gunn’s output might easily be held up as an example of a genuinely progressive approach to music-making, open-minded and eclectic, always looking for new sources of inspiration, and never letting his creative impulse grow stale.

The oldest items included in the compilation date back from Gunn’s debut album One Thousand Years (released in 1993), and (perhaps unsurprisingly) reveal a strong King Crimson influence, with “Kuma” in particular sounding like something out of the magnificent Discipline. As a matter of fact, the Crimsonian vibe can be heard in all of Gunn’s Nineties material, as witnessed by “Hard Winds”, another track characterized by the insistent, interlocking guitar lines and heavy yet intricate drumming typical of Fripp’s crew in their Eighties and Nineties incarnations. Gunn’s two more recent projects involving drummers – TU with fellow KC alum Pat Mastelotto, and Modulator with German-born wunderkind Marco Minnemann (who was also part of Eddie Jobson’s band when I saw them in 2009) – spotlight the marriage between the drums and the stunning versatility of Gunn’s trademark Warr guitar, with dramatic, mesmerizing textures and plenty of driving energy. However, while the TU tracks are more structured, the Modulator stuff (originally conceived as a 51-minute guitar solo) is largely improvisational in nature. Some of these numbers, especially the thunderous “Untamed Chicken”, seem to emphasize the drum-driven heaviness that characterizes compositions like “Level Five” (from King Crimson’s 2003 album The Power to Believe). Italian outfit N.Y.X.’s “Down in the Shadows” carries nuances of ‘alternative prog’ in the dark, industrial-tinged style perfected by Tool; while the bass-powered “Arrakis”, recorded live in 2001, foreshadows the avant-fusion of contemporary bands such as Zevious.

On the other hand, Gunn’s collaboration with Russian singer Inna Zhelennaya on her 2009 album Cocoon and on the eponymous 2005 album by The Farlanders explore the fascinating reaches of world music, injecting a welcome dose of thoroughly un-cheesy melody (also evidenced in gorgeous opening “Hymn”) in the proceedings. Zhelennaya’s hauntingly keening Russian-language vocals, somehow reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard’s otherworldly chanting, blend uncannily well with Gunn’s quicksilver guitar, producing some very distinctive results in the likes of the hypnotic “Maslenitsa” (the longest track on the album at almost 10 minutes, and possibly its highlight), “Well” and “Drunk”. Entrancing ambient tones, coloured with a feel of gentle melancholy, surface in Gunn’s collaboration with Russian clarinetist Sergey Klevezny; while the slow, liquid “9:47 PM Eastern Time” brings to mind KC’s “The Sheltering Sky”. KTU’s accordion-laden ”Jacaranda” and the Middle Eastern-flavoured “The Magnificent Jinn” branch further out in world music territory, though combining those ethnic influences with the angular dynamics typical of King Crimson.

As exciting and eclectic as I’ll Tell What I Saw is, I would not recommend listening to the whole 2-CD set in one take, since music this challenging and edgy might induce a sense of sonic overload, especially in those listeners who are used to more conventionally structured fare. Thankfully, there is enough diversity within those 36 tracks to keep the most demanding listeners happy. It is, however, music with a high level of complexity, even in the case of the shorter compositions, and needs to be approached with the right attitude. All in all, this is an excellent summary of Trey Gunn’s adventurous, ever-changing career, and an outstanding introduction to the work of one of the most intriguing purveyors of genuinely progressive music on the current scene.

Links:
http://www.treygunn.com

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