Trey Anastasio
"Seis De Mayo"


The first thing that came into my mind after listening to the new - and quite atypical - album by Trey Anastasio (of course, he's the "primus inter pares" of USA quartet named Phish) was King Crimson's Prelude: Song Of The Gulls. Does anybody remember it? It was a composition for oboe and orchestra which - quite unexpectedly, and quite disarmingly - popped up on the second side of the album called Islands (1971). A composition that was strangely naive, given the fact that Islands was the fourth Crimson album for which Robert Fripp had written the music. I immediately decided to skip that track every time I'd play that side.

"Seis De Mayo" is the name of the short album (a bit under half an hour) where Anastasio has assembled some of his brief compositions and a longer one, all played by line-ups that are "orchestral" in instrumentation if not in size, Guyute being the only track that's played by a full-size orchestra. It was to be expected: an omnivorous listener, Anastasio has always been in love with "classic harmony" jazz and "classical music", his passion for fugues being a well-known fact since the early days of Phish, more than twenty years ago, and already present on the first group album, Junta (1988).

In the last few years traces have started to appear on record - check At The Gazebo and Ray Dawn Balloon, the nice tracks featured on the album simply titled Trey Anastasio (2002). Then, I seemed to notice his compositional hand being surer when dealing with reeds and winds than string instruments, and it's an impression that for me stands after listening to "Seis De Mayo": an album that in time reveals a kind of fragile grace but - in so differently from his work with the tentet - seems to be destined to remain a footnote in Anastasio's musical journey, a kind of "growin' up in public". In my opinion the album shows a lack of adventurousness in Anastasio's orchestral writing, which in quite a few instances reminded me of "film music" (but nowadays the term seems to indicate something pretty different).

Andre The Giant, the first track, is a nice opening move: here we have Mike Gordon on bass, Abou Sylla on balafon and Fode Bangoura on djembe, besides Anastasio's acoustic guitar. Prologue is closely related to the instrumental intro to the track called Pebbles And Marbles, off the very good album Round Room (2002). The Inlaw Josie Wales is a nice reprise for acoustic guitar and string quartet of the fine composition of the same name featured on Farmhouse (2000), All Things Reconsidered a successful reprise of the intricate composition that had already appeared on Rift (1993). I found the following brief tracks - Coming To, with Jon Fishman on drums, and Discern (Intro) - to be quite successful, maybe due to their instrumentation. The final track is an arrangement of the long piece titled Guyute, which had already appeared in a version for "rock quartet" on The Story Of The Ghost (1998). It's obviously the most ambitious track here, but one that left me puzzled: on ...Ghost ,Guyute was the atypical moment in an album that was fragmented and funky, where it appeared to refer to old proto-progressive climates; this orchestral version, at times of a Rossini-like exuberance, really sounds too conventional.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2004 | May 26, 2004