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Trey Anastasio - Trey Anastasio Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 September 2003

Trey Anastasio

Trey Anastasio
format: DVD-Audio
label: Elektra/Asylum
release year: 2002
performance: 8
sound: 8
reviewed by: Jeff Fish

Image I’ll admit that I have a hard time finding anything Trey Anastasio does to be bad. He is the consummate guitarist and musician. In my opinion, his name belongs with the likes of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana and Frank Zappa. His guitar playing is only matched by his compositional skills and he has one of the most outstanding minds in music today. Anastasio’s need to release a solo album was brought to the forefront while Phish was recording their Farmhouse album. Most of the songs on that CD were Anastasio compositions, but there was also co-writing credits that included members of his side project.

By my recollection, it was from this place, as well as Anastasio’s strong desire to give his side project a chance to flourish, where the initial thought of a hiatus came from. I still had my concerns, though, when it came to this album. Phish was always the vehicle for which Anastasio wrote and Phish were widely known as one of the great live bands of the 1990s. So what would be different?

Well, for one thing, the songs on Trey Anastasio are more structured than they were for Phish, almost like a Phish Lite. I don’t mean that as a slam, just an observation. While listening to this DVD-A, I was reminded of why I liked this album so much to begin with. You can hear Anastasio’s affinity for Frank Zappa’s compositional skills (Waka/Jawaka, Grand Wazoo and Roxy & Elsewhere era), just a little more groove-oriented. All the musicians on this release are world class and so are the compositions. So how does it translate to a multi-channel mix? Very well, I must say. This is the type of music that flourishes with multi-channel considerations.

Most of the mix takes place in the front two speakers, with the center channel being the focal point for whatever instrument is being highlighted at a given time. The surround speakers are mostly used for the cymbal washes and ambient mic placement. I didn’t find there to be any significant plus to the DVD-A over the standard CD in terms of any real quadraphonic foreplay; the real advantage is you feel like you’re in the studio with the musicians. Anastasio’s guitar takes up much of the center channel, as does his voice when present, but I really liked hearing his guitar or the occasional trombone through the center channel. Since the album has a real jazzy feel to it, the multi-channel mix invites you into the room and lets you hear all the nuances that you may have missed on the 16-bit CD mix. “Flock of Words,” “Ray Dawn Balloon” and “Ether Sunday” really open up in this mix. These are the most intimate songs of the album, quiet by nature, but really spacious in this mix. The highlights of the album to me are “Flock of Words,” “Money, Love and Change” and “Last Tube.”

“Flock of Words” has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music that Anastasio has ever written. The flute solo at the end of the song makes this song just about perfect. “Money, Love and Change” has this gritty/funky quality to it; you can tell that the band is about to take off into the stratosphere with Anastasio’s wah working overtime. It was like Sly Stone invaded Anastasio’s body for that number. My personal favorite of the album is the almost 11.5-minute workout of “Last Tube.” The interplay of all the musicians on this piece is amazing and the jam in the middle is something to behold. These are top-rate musicians playing their hearts out and you can tell that they are having fun as well! The biggest difference between the DVD-A release and the CD is how well the horns come across. That is where I’m getting the biggest Zappa influence from Anastasio, his use of the horns. This DVD-A highlight’s the horn section and really give them a chance to breathe. The overall feel of the mix is intimate. By “intimate,” I mean it really does sound like you’re listening to a live band in front of you. Drums pretty much staying in place, while the other instruments have a chance to move about the stereo spectrum, but not the surround spectrum. Big difference, at least to my ears.

Given the news of the last couple of months out of the Phish camp, I’m optimistic and looking forward to hearing what each one of the members will be up too. With this release, Anastasio has raised the bar, both musically and sonically. The album Trey Anastasio is musically accessible, but still complex enough for all you prog/fusion fans out there. It is melodically interesting, but not so obscure that it will drive away the faint of heart. This is highly recommended for fans of classy/jazzy rock ensembles. If you’re into Chicago or Steely Dan, you need to get this disc. Overall, I was really impressed with how warm this mix sounded and just how relaxing yet interesting it is, all at the same time. It makes me feel good to review music like this... maybe there is hope after all.


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