“The Water and the sky drew near each other.
All of Mankind drowned and turned to fishes.”
– Aztec Tale
With the above words featuring in the artwork, the scene is set for the latest release from Touch guitar legend Trey Gunn. As anyone familiar with his work can attest, Trey is an extraordinary musician who has been following his own muse for many years now, including a high profile role as an integral part of King Crimson for nearly a decade until 2003. Since then his various projects have placed him in a number of different settings and since 2012 he has been a part of The Security Project, set up by drummer Jerry Marotta to mark the 25th Anniversary of Gabriel’s groundbreaking Security album (also known as 4) and to play classic Gabriel solo material with the intention to not only recreate the pieces but to give them a new musical lease of life.
As part of the Security Project shows, Gunn would each night add an improvised intro to Gabriel’s classic Here Comes The Flood, and very moving preludes they must have made. These have now become the starting point for The Waters, The Are Rising which features four of these improvisations recorded in March 2014 scattered amongst other pieces of similar feel. These are beautiful swirling movements of evolving sound performed solo by Trey on Touch guitar. There is a bereft quality, loss – either perceived or expected – taking its toll, and as a whole this is a breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly melancholy listen. The overlaid notes resonate and reverberate, each one seeking to explain more about the predicament they seem to find themselves in. Flood II ends with the first couple of notes of Gabriel’s piece, showing how it would have fitted into the show, followed by a lengthy near silence, as if to consider the greater significance.
Gunn’s theme for the album is “Flow” and that is certainly one of the words that comes easily to mind upon hearing this music. There is an organic edge to the sounds as they move this way and that, finding their own level and course.
The album is bookended by Not Dark Yet and The First Return which stand apart from the rest due to the inclusion of the sublime vocals of Dylan Nichole Bandy, the only other musical contributor to the recording. Not Dark Yet is, unexpectedly, a Bob Dylan song taken from his 1997 Time Out of Mind album and rearranged by Trey, originally recorded as part of the score for Sonya Lea’s short film Every Beautiful Thing. Here the arrangement has been fleshed out with some alternative choices and the result is a haunting setting for the mournful vocal which is almost spiritual in tone. The First Return acts as a lengthy coda, the voice emerging from within a calming drone as if from the depths, an oasis in the swirling eddies before being lost as the flow carries it away and resolves into nothing.
The improvisational nature of these pieces sees them appear from gossamer strands over time, inexorably manifesting like the increasing water levels. On Three Days the framework of notes is sparse, broken fragments of heavily treated speech rendered almost impossible to understand. There is little in the way of melody but the icy notes hang in the air in solitary fashion telling their own story before evaporating slowly. Similarities can be drawn to some of Robert Fripp’s work with Soundscaping.
The Seven Who Were Saved incorporates more melody over a sparse and primitive rhythm. There’s a hypnotic quality, the varying sounds a testament to the versatility of both Trey and his instrument of choice. The Last Wave continues the odd rhythmic device but with a more dissonant tone. Odra is different in that there is a suggestion of imminent threat despite the notes being equally sparse.
This is hypnotically beautiful music that you can really lose yourself in. Emotionally resonant and as deep as the flood waters it sets out to portray this is not and should never be regarded as background music, the variety of the material blending throughout with the watery theme.
As a new strategy, and rather against the run of the tide, Trey has increased his pricing for this release in a brave attempt to raise the perceived value of his work, even at the risk of reducing his fanbase, and to reflect the work and costs involved in its creation so as to ensure that career artists continue to have the means to create high quality and exceptional work. Trey says:
“So, instead of saying ‘Yeah, sure people are only expecting to pay X amount for a recording, so I shall do my best to make do with that’, I am instead deciding to say ‘This is how much work goes into it and this is what I believe the value is.’ No different from a craft beer, an exquisitely made espresso, a boutique guitar amplifier or a custom made pair of pants. The process is involved.”
Hopefully his plan works out as this is music that deserves to be made – and also heard – more widely. Not an easy listen but an engrossing one that repays the emotional investment handsomely.
01. Not Dark Yet (4:55)
02. Flood I – Live in Montreal (March 7, 2014) (5:12)
03. Three Days (6:17)
04. The Seven Who Were Saved (3:42)
05. Flood IV – Live in Huntingdon, NY (March 14, 2014) (4:31)
06. The Beautiful Umbrella (3:42)
07. Flood II – Live in Quebec City (March 8, 2014) (6:54)
08. Odra (3:28)
09. The Last Wave (4:49)
10. Flood III – Live in Boston, MA (March 10, 2014) (4:14)
11. The First Return (7:53)
Total time – 54:37
Trey Gunn – Touch Guitars, Keyboards (track 1)
Dylan Nichole Bandy – Voice (tracks 1 & 11)