Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

By Stephen Grimstead

JUNE 26, 2000: 

The Trey Gunn Band The Joy Of Molybdenum (Discipline Global Mobile)

Texan Trey Gunn is best known for his role in the most recent configurations of Robert Fripp's King Crimson, currently performing with that band as bass player-plus, or "touch guitarist."

I'll try not to engage in too much tech-speak here, but it's important to briefly describe Gunn's primary musical instruments: touch guitars. Created by luthier Mark Warr (with attentive oversight by Gunn), the strings on these amplified instruments are tapped with the fingers instead of picked with a plectrum, as is traditional. This technique, combined with echo, reverb, distortion, etc., results in some unique music making. And because the Warr guitar has the chromatic range of a piano (!), Gunn's job description as "bass player" becomes upsized miles beyond old expectations.

The Trey Gunn Band's other members (drummer/percussionist Bob Muller and guitarist Tony Geballe) mesh perfectly with Gunn to bring us The Joy Of Molybdenum, a relentlessly superb adventure in thoroughly contemporary instrumental music.

I think it's accurate and not at all demeaning to say that Gunn is one of Robert Fripp's protégés. Frippish in more than a few spots, the master's influence here is undeniable. So too is Gunn and company's successful move away from Fripp's strong gravitational pull into a trajectory of their own, propelled by considerable creative energy and vision. Gunn's band (most of the songwriting on The Joy Of Molybdenum is credited to all three members) manage to forge a signature sound despite their tendency to incorporate disparate musical elements. This music is minimalistic, meditative, occasionally fusion-esque, occasionally funky, vaguely metallic, worldly, exotic.

I really can't say enough about how well these three musicians work with one another. Historically, percussionists have "enjoyed" unsung hero status in relation to singers, guitar players, and so forth. In my estimation, however, good drummers are to the rest of the ensemble as bone is to flesh, and therefore rule. Bob Muller's work on The Joy Of Molybdenum is essential, intelligent, and flat-out exciting. His is a defining influence, almost a means of interpreting the rest of the group's message.

You might imagine that Gunn's free-roaming touch lines would conflict with Geballe's guitar work, but one never fouls the other's efforts -- a fairly amazing feat in itself. And if, from time to time, the two players' parts become almost indistinguishable, well, that's simply part of the magic.

In every sense of the word, it is a privilege to behold successful attempts at true excellence. Unfortunately, such achievement is far too often taken for granted, ignored, misapprehended, or otherwise not appreciated. With the establishment of Discipline Global Mobile, it appears that Robert Fripp fully intends to showcase an eclectic roster of worthy musicians while jettisoning some of the record industry's more unsavory, anti-artist practices.

Check into things at www.disciplineglobalmobile.com. And by all means, broaden and deepen your frame of reference with The Joy Of Molybdenum.

Steve Hancoff Duke Ellington For Solo Guitar (Discipline Global Mobile)

And now, for something completely different

Well, Steve Hancoff's Duke Ellington For Solo Guitar is indeed very different from the Trey Gunn stuff -- different by virtue of its devotedly traditional nature.

Duke Ellington For Solo Guitar can be quickly described as Duke filtered through Jim Hall-meets-Merle Travis-style fingerpicked acoustic guitar. But that doesn't fully speak to the twin attributes offered up by this wonderful player -- namely, swell chops and a gift for interpretation.

It's so easy to forget how innovative Ellington really was. While academic hell-raisers of the day like Arnold Schoenberg and John Cage were turning their backs on melodicism, Ellington proceeded to demonstrate that melody had been pronounced dead prematurely. Of course, he was hip to the inroads the avant-garde were making, and borrowed from those quarters as he saw fit. But his greatest strength was his ability to bestow upon his melodic ideas an astonishingly unique and modern treatment, which even today stands as breathtaking testament to his (not to mention collaborator Billy Strayhorn's) unflagging commitment to a process of free-thinking within a self-imposed musical framework.

No self-respecting Ellington fan will want to be without this lovely tribute to a true musical genius. From the relatively simple elegance of "Come Sunday" to some of the more intricate tracks, Duke Ellington For Solo Guitar is a tremendous CD. -- S.G.

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