Quodia, featuring Trey Gunn – The Arrow (2007)

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When he left King Crimson in late 2003, the first question on most fan’s minds was, “What is next for Trey Gunn?” It took more than three years to get a definitive answer, but it finally arrived in the form of Quodia — an ambitious musical spoken word project with Joe Mendelson, a former member of the odd early 90s avant-hip-hop group Rise Robots Rise, and also a member of Gunn’s live band.

With Gunn’s tenure in King Crimson over, it was naturally assumed he would carry on with his hypnotic brand of instrumental guitar work, most of it recorded on the instrument he is known for, the Warr Guitar. A touchstyle instrument similar to the Chapman Stick, the Warr Guitar produces sound when the musician taps the strings, rather than plucks or picks. The result sounds like a cross between guitar and piano, and, in fact, the instrument’s range digs deep into the bass notes as well as high into the range of guitar. This allows Gunn to take on the role of a one-man band of sorts.

Not being content, however, to simply play music, Gunn has always stretched boundaries (as a disciple of King Crimson mastermind Robert Fripp should). But on Gunn’s previous solo album, 2000’s The Joy of Molybdenum, there is a sense of circling about, trying to find new ideas. So when Trey Gunn announced his departure and eventual partnership with Mendelson for Quodia, many were curious just where he could possibly head from where he’d already been.

The idea of a spoken-word project may be a turn-off to some, as the storyline has to logically play out in front of the music for it to really work, and the real draw of Quodia was Trey Gunn. This is not to slight Joe Mendelson, but most interested in this project were curious for the Gunn factor, and Mendelson’s non-musical contributions (the stories he tells) might be seen as an unfortunate distraction from Gunn’s playing underneath.

The thing is, The Arrow was pretty intriguing as a whole. Mendelson is gifted with just the right kind of voice for a project of this nature — a warm, soft, inviting hum that rarely makes an effort to stand out, but is comfortable to listen to over the long period of time that the stories he tells play out.

Musically, Gunn was at the forefront while Mendelson added loops and textures behind him. Those familiar with Gunn’s solo albums won’t be surprised to find the looping, repetitive and (here’s that word again) hypnotic blend of rhythm and knotted guitar sounds, as evidenced by “The First Sign” and “After the Village,” among others.

Occasionally, the specter of his recent past with King Crimson also came out, such as on the all-too-short “Thick and Thorny,” which featured a guest appearance by King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto. Gunn also rewarded us with the kind of heart-wrenching solo that he contributed to his previous employer’s “The Deception of the Thrush” on “Chained.” Throughout the album were sprinkled guest appearances, most notably by Regina Spektor, and drumming throughout the album was handled by the very capable Matt Chamberlain.

Not easy listening by any means, but it was intriguing, challenging listening for those who ask a bit more from music. The Arrow was heady mix of media, but for the right listener, it should provide for a great deal of enjoyment and surprise.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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