After witnessing Trey and Classic TAB in Kansas City on Sunday night, there is only one thing to say – believe the hype – the band is playing as well as all the glowing reviews have reported, and Trey has brought his own chops to another level. With childlike passion and a ear to ear smile plastered on his face, Trey played with a relaxed confidence all night long, as visibly, happy, and excited as ever. Historically a place for different types different playing, his band progressed from a showcase of guitar acrobatics to big-band percussive grooves. But Anastasio’s current incarnation of TAB may represent the most polished alternate outlet for Trey thus far, boasting the band’s tightest playing in memory, while allowing plenty of room for his own creativity. If this version of TAB could be described in a few words, they would be be fun, energetic, and infectious. With revitalized horn arrangements, directed improvisation, and an influx of new pieces, TAB is hitting on all cylinders right now, producing music on par or surpassing anything Trey’s side project has ever done.
The role of the horn section provided the first noticeable difference in the musical makeup of this band. Playing through composed sections with new arrangements, courtesy of Orchestra Nashville’s Don Hart, Jen Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, and Russell Remington blended with the music rather than sitting atop. Hartswick noted the more integrated arrangements in a recent interview, explaining how Hart “had written really beautiful, elaborate and involved horn parts that essentially was written like an orchestra, like a string section would be.” While artistically infusing the horn section into his show, Trey noticeably carved out time for “Classic TAB” to improvise as a quartet. And with Trey and Ray Paczkowski bursting with connected ideas over a creative pocket, these scorching excursions stood out as the highlights of the show.
The style of the quartet’s playing mirrored the more compact style of 2009 Phish. No longer indulging in 20 minute “Jibboos” or “Sands,” Trey led the band in more concise jamming, sparking original ideas right out of the gates in a parallel case of musical density. Looking to Ray almost immediately in every jam, the two initiated the melodic half as Tony and Russ thumped away dynamic grooves. The four-piece worked noticeably well, as the rhythm section joined in the improv more earnestly than in the past. “Push On Til the Day” and “Alive Again,” and more specifically, “Night Speaks to a Woman” and “Money, Love, and Change” featured organic first set jams built over unique themes rather than Trey merely shredding over a groove. And during the second set, the horns left during every jam, allowing the quartet to create unique music that far surpassed anything from their 2008 “Northern Exposure” mini-tour.
During some pieces, Trey kept one or more horn players out to add to the textures, and none worked better than Remington’s flute addition to “Liquid Time.” This lyrically poignant song got into one of the most cohesive jams of the show, transcending groove and bathing in melodic improv. But the obscene, guitar-annihilation crime scene of the night came during the second-set centerpiece, “Sand.” Typical of his TAB freestyling, Trey moved between rhythm chops and soaring leads as the he led the band to their highest point of the evening. By the time he brought the song’s theme back around, the band had sculpted a nasty musical segment that blew the roof off the Uptown Theatre.
The way that Trey called the horn players back to stage also brought an interesting facet to the show. Often signaling for one or two at a time, he clearly thought about where each jam had progressed and which sounds would best blend with each piece. Eventually calling all three members back by the peak of every jam, the horns built each song back to its full form before ending. The cohesion of the horn section brought a “finished” feel to many of the songs, enhancing the overall performance and never detracting from the flow. All the players got a chance to shine individually on “Mr. Completely,” as the jam vehicle doubled as a band showcase, allowing everyone to take solos as Trey comped along with signature rhythm licks.
On several newer songs, the horns stayed on throughout, bringing whole new elements to pieces like “Goodbye Head,” “Valentine,” “Shine,” and “Alaska.” In the same interview, Hartswick noted “on a lot of the new songs that Trey brought to [Hart] months and months and months ago, and he had written really…involved horn parts…The difference is that during the entire song, the horns are playing the entire time, and not just sounds at the end of the jam. It is a really, really beautiful thing, and exciting.” The balance between the septet and the quartet worked nicely, giving the show completely different feels from moment to moment.
But the overwhelming quality to the show, as has been restated by many this tour, was the genuinely obvious fun that the entire band had onstage from start to finish. Trey leapt around the stage like it was his romper room, exchanging looks and laughs, as well as musical ideas, with each and every member. One couldn’t help but soak up the excitement that radiated from the band all night long. A unique crew, from the 18-year old trombone phenom, Natalie Cressman, to the Vermonster, Ray Paczkowski, this group just seems to click in a way that no TAB arrangement has in quite some time. Integrating jazzier, big-band elements with an eclectic horn section, but staying rooted in guitar-led improv, this group succeeds where other Trey projects have fallen short. As they wind down their final week of tour, Trey and Classic TAB have left an exciting wake behind them, creating a buzz in the community with impressive nightly revelries. With more off-season touring to come later in the year, this project is just getting started – but what a start it’s been.
I: Shine, Push On, Alive Again, Birdwatcher, Mozambique, Cayman Review, Dragonfly, Night Speaks to a Woman, Valentine, Let Me Lie, Sweet Dreams Melinda, Money Love & Change, Tuesday, Backwards Down the Line*, Brian & Robert*, Back on the Train*, Sample in a Jar*, Wilson*
II: Gotta Jibboo, Liquid Time, Sand, Goodbye Head > Mr. Completely, Alaska, Sultans of Swing
E: Show of Life, First Tube
* Trey Solo Acoustic
Jams of the Day:
“Sand” 2.21.10 KC II
Some choice work by Trey in this Kansas City highlight.
“Free” 12.15.99 II
A highlight of today’s Download of the Day, and a favorite “Free” since the night it dropped.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
12.15.99 MCI Center, Washington, DC < Megaupload
My desktop computer, as they say in the Bay, is hella-infected, so no torrents today. Enjoy this gem from December ’99, going out via reader request to JerZ!
I: Down with Disease, Farmhouse, Bathtub Gin, Wolfman’s Brother, Guyute, Train Song, You Enjoy Myself
II: Sample in a Jar, Maze, Free, Dirt, Reba, Halley’s Comet >Suzy Greenberg
E: Frankenstein, Rocky Top
Source: Microtech Gefell m210 > Apogee AD-1000 > Sony D100 (@ 44.1 kHz)