April 22, 2004

An Orchestral Revolution

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Have no illusions. Trey Anastasio’s new solo release is nothing like what might be expected. In the place of Phish’s characteristic jazz-jam, improvisational style, Seis De Mayo presents seven fully instrumental orchestral arrangements. A bold project, the new album testifies resoundingly to Trey’s outstanding musicianship and his unique musical vision. But still, buyers (especially you dedicated Phish fans) beware. The new album is unfamiliar and atypical. Luckily, it is these things in a brilliant, expansive way. So beware. But buy nonetheless.

Lyric-less, jam-less, and almost Trey-less, what Seis De Mayo purports to do is turn rock into symphony — in the most literal way. The album is composed of rock songs re-scored, re-arranged, and returned as grandiose, almost inaccessible orchestral tunes. Although Trey wrote all of the tracks on the new album (which undoubtedly is a feat in its own right), he plays guitar on only two, the eccentric opening tune “Andre the Giant” and the acoustic reinterpretation of “Inlaw Josie Wales.” While Trey’s jazzy, inspired guitar playing is missed on the new album, Phish-style guitar (and bass and drums for that matter) would sound awkwardly misplaced on the characteristically string-based album.

The string sound that makes the album distinct and unusual is also what makes it feel so smart, so atmospheric. On “Inlaw Josie Wales” and “All Things Reconsidered” (an apt title to say the least), Trey showcases the Ying Quartet, a group working on a project called LifeMusic, sponsored by the Institute for American Music, that commissions American string quartets. The Vermont Youth Orchestra, with percussionist Cyro Baptista, joins Trey on “Prologue,” an ethereal, melodious composition that jumps and darts and feels fluttery but masterful. Troy Peters conducts this group, who originally performed the album’s final track and irrefutable climax, “Guyute,” in its orchestral version in February of 2001.

Irrefutable, indeed. “Guyute” is Trey’s opus, his masterpiece on Seis De Mayo. The song is a wordless story, colored by haunting instrumentals that shift and sway between light, airy moments — complete with triangle dings and lilting trumpets — and moody, blasting ones. This time performed by SEATTLEMUSIC Group but conducted again by Troy Peters, “Guyute” represents song re-thought: it teems with movement, with charisma, with personality. It’s an opus, a huge work, a full and exciting drama, and, on top of all that, it’s an unarguable success. All in all, Seis De Mayo is triumphant in an unexpected way. With the new album, there is a sense that Trey is onto something bigger than Phish — which, then, must be quite big. He seems to have graduated from a singer/songwriter to a full-blown composer, a mad, inspired craftsman with talents so vast that his first official attempt at symphony is nearly flawless.

Archived article by Lynne Feeley
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer