Trey Gunn – Untune The Sky (2004)

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by Tom Johnson

Newly free of King Crimson in 2004, some wondered just what it was that Warr guitarist Trey Gunn would be doing. A great short answer came in the form of Untune the Sky, a combination CD/DVD package.

The CD takes the shape of a best-of, with a good selection of material from across Gunn’s five solo albums (one of which is live) and his project with fellow King Crimson mate Robert Fripp and drummer Bill Reiflin (Ministry, KMFDM and R.E.M.) The Repercussions of Angelic Behavior — a must-have for fans of the King Crimson ProjeKcts — plus an unreleased track and two alternate mixes of album tracks. As a primer for the uninitiated, it works pretty well to introduce them to Gunn’s brand of spacy, complex (all very obviously King Crimson-inspired) music, but long time fans who own everything obviously won’t find much beside the mixes and unreleased track to keep them coming back.

To make the set more “value-added,” Gunn threw in a DVD with some performances, video montages, behind-the-scenes interviews, and offstage/on-tour footage. The live tracks win out here, as the behind-the-scenes material, filmed on a hand-held video camera, is poorly lit and the audio often too hard to make out, the video montages are interesting graphical interpretations of the songs, and “Minutes, Hours, Days In Mexico” is really kind of a curious addition: It’s just the band walking around in Mexico, again filmed with a hand-held video camera.

Some of the live footage is great — seeing Gunn’s renowned touchstyle technique in action is always fascinating — but it’s really drummer/percussionist Bob Muller who I found most interesting. Muller employs the use of much Middle Eastern and Indian percussion in his set, and watching him deftly switch between hand-drumming and sticks is entertaining. The guy never misses a beat. Be sure and check out the footage of him setting up his kit, one of the few must-see portions of the behind-the-scenes material.

Finally, this live material makes the whole set worth owning for one song in particular: “Brief Encounter.” Not only is the band fantastic throughout all this material, this song in particular features the bonus of two overly enthusiastic audience members who emerge from the crowd to dance at the foot of the stage. The amused faces of Gunn and guitarist Tony Geballe as the woman, seemingly more than a little tipsy, gives the band an impromptu striptease — priceless.

The only disappointing aspect of the live footage is that the video is sometimes being shot from the side of the stage or, in the case of “Sozzle,” was filmed with a very grainy setting on the camera (plus less than stellar sound quality) and some songs bear the unfortunate fate of having had some distracting video effects applied. This sounds overly negative, and it’s not meant to be. I’m really more listening than watching anyway. This isn’t a band who’s up there to put on a great stage show. They’re there to perform, and perform they do.

For fans of King Crimson’s instrumental work, Gunn should be a logical choice to check out. With Fripp as his mentor, Gunn has picked up all the tricks of the trade that Fripp practically invented, and has combined them with a heavy penchant for stretching out in mesmerizing middle-eastern tinged explorations. Untune The Sky‘s a pretty good place to start your own exploration of Gunn’s music.

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